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Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier

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HMS QueenElizabeth RO8-2.jpg
HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) entering Portsmouth Naval Base on her delivery voyage 16 August 2017.
Class overview
NameQueen Elizabeth class
BuildersAircraft Carrier Alliance
Operators Royal Navy
Preceded by Invincible class
Cost£6.2bn budget for both ships.[1]
In commission2017–present[2]
General characteristics
TypeAircraft carrier
Displacement65,000 tonnes (64,000 long tons; 72,000 short tons)[3]
Length280 m (920 ft)[4]
  • 39 m (128 ft) waterline
  • 73 m (240 ft) overall[6][7]
Draught11 m (36 ft)
Decks16,000 m2 (170,000 sq ft) 9 decks beneath flightdeck with hangar covering the centrepiece of two decks (without islands)
Installed power
SpeedIn excess of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph)[12]
Range10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km; 12,000 mi)
Troops250[8] to 900[9]
Complement679 crew, not including air element; total berths for up to 1,600
Sensors and
processing systems
Aircraft carried
Aviation facilities
  • Large flight deck with ski jump
  • Hangar deck
  • Two aircraft lifts
NotesCapable of carrying more than 70 aircraft[11]
HMS Queen Elizabeth, July 2014

The Queen Elizabeth class is a class of two aircraft carriers of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy. The lead ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, was named on 4 July 2014,[13] in honour of Queen Elizabeth, a renowned World War I era super-dreadnought, which in turn was named for Elizabeth I.[14] She was commissioned on 7 December 2017,[2] with an initial operating capability expected in 2018.[15] The second, HMS Prince of Wales, was launched on 21 December 2017, and is planned to be commissioned in 2020.[16] On 5 September 2014, at the NATO 2014 Wales summit, the Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the second carrier would be brought into service, ending years of uncertainty surrounding its future. This was confirmed by the November 2015 Government Strategic Defence Review, with both carriers entering service, one being available at any time.[17][18]

The contract for the vessels was announced on 25 July 2007, by the then Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, ending several years of delay over cost issues and British naval shipbuilding restructuring. The contracts were signed one year later on 3 July 2008, with the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, a partership formed with Babcock International, Thales Group, A&P Group, Rosyth Dockyard, the UK Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems (after the creation of BVT Surface Fleet through the merger of BAE Systems Surface Fleet Solutions and VT Group's VT Shipbuilding, which was a requirement of the UK Government).

The vessels currently have a displacement of approximately 65,000 tonnes (64,000 long tons; 72,000 short tons),[3] but the design anticipates added weight over the lifetime of the ships.[19] The ships will be 280 metres (920 ft) long and have a Carrier Air Wing (CVW)[20] of up to forty aircraft (though they are capable of carrying up to fifty at full load).[5] They will be the largest warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy, and the second-largest non-US Navy warships after the Yamato-class battleships. The projected cost of the programme is £6.2 billion.[1]

Both carriers will be completed as originally planned, in a Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) configuration, deploying the Lockheed Martin F-35B. Following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the British government had intended to purchase the F-35C carrier version of this aircraft, and adopted plans for Prince of Wales to be built to a Catapult Assisted Take Off Barrier Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) configuration. After the projected costs of the CATOBAR system rose to around twice the original estimate, the government announced that it would revert to the original design on 10 May 2012.


Defence co-operation with France and the European Union

In 1996, the British Defence Secretary Michael Portillo signed a letter of intent with his French equivalent to establish Anglo-French naval study groups, one of which was to be about future development of aircraft carriers. This was followed by the Saint-Malo declaration of 1998, in which Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac agreed to work together on an integrated European Union defence force. In December 1999, the European Council established the Helsinki Headline Goal, which focussed on creating a European Union Rapid Reaction Force to operate at the global level. One element of such a force was to be three large aircraft carriers, two provided by the Royal Navy and one by the French. According to this plan, other western European navies were to provide the escort cover needed by the carriers.[21]

Strategic Defence Review

In May 1997, the newly elected Labour government led by Tony Blair launched the Strategic Defence Review, which re-evaluated every weapon system, then active or in procurement, with the exception of the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines. The report, published in July 1998, stated that aircraft carriers offer the following:[22]

  • Ability to operate offensive aircraft overseas, when foreign bases may not be available early in a conflict
  • All required space and infrastructure, as even where foreign bases are available infrastructure is often lacking
  • A coercive and deterrent effect when deployed to a trouble spot

The report concluded: "the emphasis is now on increased offensive air power, and an ability to operate the largest possible range of aircraft in the widest possible range of roles. When the current carrier force reaches the end of its planned life, we plan to replace it with two larger vessels. Work will now begin to refine our requirements but present thinking suggests that they might be of the order of 30,000–40,000 tonnes and capable of deploying up to fifty aircraft, including helicopters."[22]

Design studies

Initial Ministry of Defence (MoD) design studies for what was then the Invincible class replacement were conducted in the mid-1990s.[23] Options considered at this early stage included the possibilities of lengthening the hulls and extending the life of the existing Invincible class ships, converting commercial ships to carriers, and the construction of purpose-built new aircraft carriers.[23][24]

On 25 January 1999, six companies were invited to tender for the assessment phase of the project – Boeing, British Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Marconi Electronic Systems, Raytheon and Thomson-CSF.[25] On 23 November 1999, the MoD awarded detailed assessment studies to two consortia, one led by BAe (renamed BAE Systems on 30 November 1999) and one led by Thomson-CSF (renamed Thales Group in 2000). The brief required up to six designs from each consortium with air-groups of thirty to forty Future Joint Combat Aircraft (FJCA). The contracts were split into phases; the first £5.9 million phase was for design assessment which would form part of the aircraft selection, while the second £23.5 million phase involved "risk reduction on the preferred carrier design option".[26]

Final carrier design submissions by the two rival industry teams in November 2002 led to a design down-selection decision in January 2003, in which the UK government decided to discontinue the BAE SYSTEMS carrier designs and to proceed instead with the rival ‘adaptable’ carrier design offered by the Thales team. The political decision was also taken at this point to progress CVF through a joint Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA) team formed of representatives from the MoD and the former BAE SYSTEMS and Thales teams.

The design offerings of the unsuccessful BAE SYSTEMS team are reported by Campbell-Roddis (2017).[24]

The successful (down-selected) Thales/BMT team's aircraft carrier design, and its subsequent evolution into the final Queen Elizabeth class ship design, is reported by Knight (2009)[27] and Harris et al (2009).[28]

Capability requirements and ship size

The vessels, described as "supercarriers" by the media, legislators and sometimes by the Royal Navy,[29] will displace approximately 65,000 tonnes (64,000 long tons; 72,000 short tons)[3] each, almost three times the displacement of its predecessor, the Invincible class. They will be the largest warships ever built in the United Kingdom.[30] The last large carriers proposed for the Royal Navy, the CVA-01 programme, were cancelled by the then Labour government in the 1966 Defence White Paper.[31] In November 2004, giving evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West explained that the sortie rate and interoperability with the United States Navy were factors in deciding on the size of the carriers and the composition of the carriers' air-wings:

The reason that we have arrived at what we have arrived at is because to do the initial strike package, that deep strike package, we have done really quite detailed calculations and we have come out with the figure of 36 joint strike fighters, and that is what has driven the size of it, and that is to be able to deliver the weight of effort that you need for these operations that we are planning in the future. That is the thing that has made us arrive at that size of deck and that size of ship, to enable that to happen. I think it is something like 75 sorties per day over the five-day period or something like that as well.

— Admiral Sir Alan West, evidence to the Select Committee on Defence, 24 November 2004[32]

I have talked with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) in America. He is very keen for us to get these because he sees us slotting in with his carrier groups. For example, in Afghanistan last year they had to call on the French to bail them out with their carrier. He really wants us to have these, but he wants us to have same sort of clout as one of their carriers, which is this figure at 36. He would find that very useful, and really we would mix and match with that.

— Admiral Sir Alan West, evidence to the Select Committee on Defence, 24 November 2004[33]

Aircraft and carrier format selection

On 17 January 2001, the UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United States Department of Defense (DoD) for full participation in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme, confirming the JSF as the FJCA.[34] This gave the UK input into aircraft design and the choice between the Lockheed Martin X-35 and Boeing X-32. On 26 October 2001, the DoD announced that Lockheed Martin had won the JSF contract.[35]

On 30 September 2002, the MoD announced that the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force would operate the STOVL F-35B variant. Also announced was that the carriers would take the form of large, conventional carriers, initially adapted for STOVL operations. The carriers, expected to remain in service for fifty years, were designed for but not with catapults and arrestor wires. The carriers were thus planned to be "future proof", allowing them to operate a generation of CATOBAR aircraft beyond the F-35. Four months later on 30 January 2003, the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, announced that the Thales Group design had won the competition but that BAE Systems would operate as prime contractor.[36]

When the Secretary of State for Defence announced the contract for the vessels, the cost was initially estimated at £3.9 billion.[37][38] The contracts were officially signed one year later on 3 July 2008, after the creation of BVT Surface Fleet through the merger of BAE Systems Surface Fleet Solutions and VT Group's VT Shipbuilding which was a requirement of the UK Government.[39] At the time of approval the first carrier was expected to enter service in July 2015 and the budget was £4,085m for two ships.[40] The financial crisis led to a decision in December 2008 to slow production, delaying the first ship until May 2016 and the second by two years. This decision alone added £1,560m to the cost.[40] By March 2010 the budget was estimated at £5,900m;[40] taking off the cost of capital led to a MPR10 Capital DEL baseline cost of £5,254m at this time.[41] If the carriers had been abandoned in the 2010 SDSR then the MoD could have cancelled £1.5bn of planned spending on Queen Elizabeth and £1.3bn of planned spending on Prince of Wales,[41] but the loss of VAT exemption meant that cancelling one or two carriers would have overall saved £989m and £2,098m respectively.[41] These long term savings were less important than the short term costs, there would have been nearly an extra £1bn of expenditure on cancellation costs in the FY11/12 budget.[41] In November 2013 the contract was renegotiated with a budget of £6,200m and BAE agreeing to pay 50% of any cost overruns rather than 10% as previously.[1]

Then in August 2009, speculation mounted that the UK would drop the F-35B for the F-35C model, which would have meant the carriers being built to operate conventional take off and landing aircraft using the US-designed Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) catapults.[42][43]

Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010

On 19 October 2010, the government announced the results of its Strategic Defence and Security Review. The review stated that only one carrier was certain to be commissioned; the fate of the other was left undecided. The second ship of the class could be placed in "extended readiness" to provide a continuous single carrier strike capability when the other was in refit, or provide the option to regenerate more quickly to a two carrier strike ability. Alternatively, the second ship could be sold in "cooperation with a close ally to provide continuous carrier-strike capability".[44]

It was also announced that the operational carrier would have catapult and arrestor gear (CATOBAR) installed to accommodate the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter rather than the short-take off and vertical-landing version.[45][46]

The decision to convert Prince of Wales to CATOBAR was reviewed after the projected costs rose to around double the original estimate. On 10 May 2012, the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, announced in Parliament that the government had decided to revert to its predecessor's plans to purchase the F-35B rather than the F-35C, and to complete both aircraft carriers with ski-jumps in the STOVL configuration.[47] The total cost of the work that had been done on the conversion to a CATOBAR configuration, and of reverting the design to the original STOVL configuration, was estimated by Philip Hammond to be "something in the order of £100 million".[48] In later testimony before a parliamentary committee, Bernard Gray, Chief of Defence Materiel, revealed that even though the carriers had been sold as adaptable and easy to convert for CATOBAR, no serious effort had been made in this direction since 2002.[49]

Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015

File:David Cameron with Admiral Zambellas and Stephen Watson at Downing Street.jpg
A model of a Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier in the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing Street on 16 July 2015.

On 23 November 2015, the government published its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review which confirmed its plans to bring into service both Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, with one to be available at all times.[50] The review also confirmed that one of the carriers would have enhanced amphibious capabilities. The government also reaffirmed its commitment to ordering 138 F-35 Lightning IIs, although the specific variant(s) was not mentioned. The review stated that 24 of these aircraft would be available to the aircraft carriers by 2023.[50]


General characteristics

The Queen Elizabeth-class carriers are closer in size to a Nimitz-class carrier (left) than the Invincible-class ships they replace (right)

The ships' company is 679, rising to 1,600 when the air crew is added.[51] In April 2015 a parliamentary reply stated that the average crew size would be 672.[52] The ships will have a displacement of 65,000 tonnes[3] on delivery, but the design allows for this to reach over 70,000 tonnes as the ships are upgraded through their lifetime.[19] They have an overall length of 280 metres (920 ft), a width at deck level of 70 metres (230 ft), a height of 56 metres (184 ft), a draught of 11 metres (36 ft), and a range of 10,000 nautical miles (12,000 mi; 19,000 km).[53] The Ministry of Defence decided not to use nuclear propulsion due to its high cost,[54] so power is supplied by two Rolls-Royce Marine Trent MT30 36 MW (48,000 hp) gas turbine generator units and four Wärtsilä diesel generator sets (two 9 MW or 12,000 hp and two 11 MW or 15,000 hp). The Trents and diesels are the largest ever supplied to the Royal Navy, and together they feed the low-voltage electrical systems as well as four GE Power Conversion's 20 MW Advanced Induction Motor (arranged in tandem) electric propulsion motors that drive the twin fixed-pitch propellers.[55]

Instead of a single island superstructure containing both the ships' navigation bridges and flying control (flyco) centres, the ships will have these operations divided between two structures, with the forward island for navigation and the aft island for controlling flying operations.[55] The primary reason for having twin islands was to space out the funnels, as the ships were designed with redundancy with "duplicated main and secondary machinery in two complexes with independent uptakes and downtakes in each of the two islands", while the alternative of consolidating all the exhaust trunkings would have reduced hangar space as well as increasing the vulnerability to flooding. There are also additional benefits to having separate islands rather than a single large island, such as easier construction, reduced wind turbulence, and freed up deck space. Using two structures provides separate mountings for the air surveillance radar (forward), which does not interfere with the medium range radar (aft); furthermore, visibility is improved for both navigation and landing operations.[56]

Under the flight deck are a further nine decks.[57] The hangar deck measures 155 by 33.5 metres (509 by 110 ft) with a height of 6.7 to 10 metres (22 to 33 ft), large enough to accommodate up to twenty fixed and rotary wing aircraft.[55] To transfer aircraft from the hangar to the flight deck, the ships have two large lifts, each of which is capable of lifting two F-35-sized aircraft from the hangar to the flight deck in sixty seconds.[58] The ships' only announced self-defence weapons are currently the Phalanx CIWS for airborne threats, with miniguns and 30 mm cannon to counter seaborne threats.


The ship's radars will be the BAE Systems and Thales[59] S1850M, the same as fitted to the Type 45 destroyers, for long-range wide-area search, the BAE Systems Artisan 3D Type 997 maritime medium-range active electronically scanned array radar, and a navigation radar.[60][61] BAE claims the S1850M has a fully automatic detection and track initiation that can track up to 1,000 air targets at a range of around 400 kilometres (250 mi).[62] Artisan can "track a target the size of a snooker ball over 20 kilometres (12 mi) away", with a maximum range of 200 km. (Artisan will also be fitted to Type 23 frigates, the assault ships HMS Albion, HMS Bulwark and HMS Ocean.)[63][64] They will also be fitted with the Ultra Electronics Series 2500 Electro Optical System (EOS) and Glide Path Camera (GPC).[65]

Munitions and ammunition handling is accomplished using a Babcock designed highly mechanised weapons handling system (HMWHS). This is a first naval application of a common land-based warehouse system. The HMWHS moves palletised munitions from the magazines and weapon preparation areas, along track ways and via several lifts, forward and aft or port and starboard. The tracks can carry a pallet to magazines, the hangar, weapons preparation areas, and the flight deck. In a change from normal procedures the magazines are unmanned, the movement of pallets is controlled from a central location, and manpower is only required when munitions are being initially stored or prepared for use. This system speeds up delivery and reduces the size of the crew by automation.[66]

Crew facilities

Crew facilities will include a cinema, physical fitness areas and four galleys manned by sixty-seven catering staff. There are four large dining areas, the largest with the capacity to serve 960 meals in one hour. There are eleven medical staff for the eight-bed medical facility, which includes an operating theatre and a dental surgery.[51] There are 1,600 bunks in 470 cabins, including accommodation for a company of 250 Royal Marines with wide assault routes up to the flight deck.[8]

Carrier air group

The vessels are expected to be capable of carrying forty aircraft, a maximum of thirty-six F-35s and four helicopters,[67] however Commodore Jerry Kyd has stated that it could carry up to 70 F-35Bs.[68] The 2010 SDSR anticipated the routine peacetime deployment of twelve F-35Bs, rising to a surge force of 24 F-35Bs and a number of helicopters.[69] Fourteen Merlin HM2 will be available[70] as a Maritime Force Protection package on the carriers with typically nine in anti-submarine configuration and five with Crowsnest for airborne early warning; alternatively a Littoral Manoeuvre package could include a mix of Royal Navy Commando Helicopter Force Merlin HC4, Wildcat AH1, RAF Chinooks, and Army Air Corps Apaches.[69] As of September 2013 six landing spots are planned, but the deck could be marked out for the operation of ten medium helicopters at once, allowing the lift of a company of 250 troops.[69] The hangars are designed for Boeing Chinook operations without blade folding and the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, whilst the aircraft lifts can accommodate two Chinooks with unfolded blades.[71]

Fixed-wing aircraft

Although the size of the Queen Elizabeth class would enable it to accommodate most current and projected carrier-based fixed-wing aircraft, the lack of arresting gear means that, as initially completed, it is only capable of operating either STOVL aircraft, such as the AV-8B Harrier or F-35B Lightning, tiltrotor aircraft such as the V-22 Osprey, or aircraft that do not require either catapult-assisted take-off or arrested recovery.

F-35 Lightning II

A British F-35B hovering at the Royal International Air Tattoo in 2016

With the retirement of the Harrier GR7/9 in 2010, there remained no carrier-capable fixed-wing aircraft available to the Royal Navy or Royal Air Force.[72] Their expected replacement is the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.[73]

As originally intended, the ships will carry the STOVL version, the F-35B. The aircraft will be flown by pilots from the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force.[74] The aircraft are expected to begin trials flying from Queen Elizabeth in 2018 with a carrier air wing fully operational by 2020.[47]

For a period following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the government had intended to purchase the F-35C carrier variant and modify one carrier to use the CATOBAR system to launch and recover these aircraft. This was because the cheaper F-35C variant has a greater range and can carry a larger and more diverse payload than the F-35B.[46][75] On 10 May 2012 Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced in Parliament that the government had decided to revert to its predecessor's plans to purchase the F-35B rather than the F-35C, and to abandon the completion of Prince of Wales to a CATOBAR configuration.[47] The reason given was that "conversion to 'cats and traps' will cost about double what was originally estimated – and would not be delivered until 2023 at the earliest". On 19 July 2012, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond indicated in a speech in the United States that the UK would order an initial 48 F-35B aircraft to be operated jointly by the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm.[76] In November 2015, the government announced its commitment to a full order of 138 F-35 aircraft, with 24 available for carrier duties by 2023.[50]

Although the F-35B is fully capable of performing vertical landing, in a similar fashion to the way that the Harrier and Sea Harrier operated, this method of operation places limitations on the loads that the aircraft is capable of returning to the ship with. As a consequence, to avoid the costly disposal at sea of both fuel and munitions, the Royal Navy is developing the Shipborne rolling vertical landing (SRVL) technique for its operation of the Lightning II. SRVL is a hybrid landing technique that uses the Lightning's vectored thrust capability to slow its forward speed to around 70 knots to allow it to make a rolling landing, using its disc brakes, without the need of an arrestor wire.[77] A special type of metallic 'thermal paint' is being developed to withstand temperatures of up to 1,500C in the vicinity of jet nozzles.[78]

In December 2016, the British Government announced that it reached an agreement with the United States to allow the deployment of USMC F-35s from Queen Elizabeth upon the ship's entry into service, with a reciprocal arrangement seeing RAF and FAA aircraft operating from ships of the US Navy.[79]



The AgustaWestland AW101 is a medium-sized multi-role helicopter. Two versions are in service with the UK armed forces, where it is known as Merlin. The utility version can carry up to twenty-four troops seated or sixteen stretcher patients and the HM2 anti-submarine warfare variant has a dipping sonar and sonar-buoys, and a complete electronic warfare suite.[80]

Both versions use a common airframe, with three Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 engines, their range and endurance using only a two engine cruise option, is 750 nautical miles (1,390 km; 860 mi), or six hours. However, range can be extended further when the five underfloor fuel tanks are supplemented with auxiliary fuel tanks fitted in the cabin. Armament depends on mission, but includes anti-ship missiles, torpedoes, three door-mounted machine guns, multi-purpose rocket, cannon pods, air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface missiles.[80] At least 14 Merlin HM2s will be assigned to the carrier.[70]


On 23 March 2015, the Royal Navy's first Wildcat HMA2 entered service.[81] The Wildcat can be equipped with several mission sensors, which can include: radar, active dipping sonar, electro-optical imaging, electronic surveillance measures and an integrated self-defence suite. The HM2 maritime version can be armed with air-to-surface missiles, torpedoes, depth charges, cannons and heavy machine guns. The aircraft has a maximum range of 520 nautical miles (960 km; 600 mi) and an endurance of four and a half hours.[82]

Airborne early warning and control

The 1982 Falklands War made clear the importance of airborne early warning and control and led to the development of the Sea King AEW2, which was succeeded by the Sea King ASaC7. This will be retired in the second half of 2018[83] and planning for its replacement was identified at an early stage as an integral part of the next-generation aircraft carrier.[84] The programme became known as the "Future Organic Airborne Early Warning" (FOAEW), and contracts were placed with BAE / Northrop Grumman and Thales in April 2001.[85] In April 2002, BAE and Northrop Grumman received a follow-on study contract for Phase II of the project, by then renamed Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control (MASC).[86] The MASC assessment phase began in September 2005 and by May 2006 three study contracts were awarded for MASC platform and mission systems options: one to Lockheed Martin UK for a Merlin helicopter fitted with AEW mission systems, another to AgustaWestland to maintain the present Sea King ASaC7 and finally to Thales UK to upgrade the Sea King's mission systems.[55]

The 2010 SDSR delayed the project which became a competition between Thales and Lockheed to supply Crowsnest, a bolt-on sensor package that can be carried by any Merlin HM2.[83] The Thales pod is based on the Sea King's Searchwater 2000; Lockheed had intended to use a derivative of the F-35's APG-81 radar but is now believed to be using an Elta system. Both systems will begin flight trials in the summer of 2014[70] ahead of Main Gate in 2016. Ten pods are planned with IOC in 2019. Until the Crowsnest system is available, a small force of Sea King ASaC.7 helicopters will remain in service with 849 Naval Air Squadron after the final withdrawal of the remainder of the Royal Navy's Sea Kings.[83]


Dockyard cranes at Rosyth viewed from across the Firth of Forth.
Lower section of Lower Block 1 (bulbous bow) of HMS Queen Elizabeth at Rosyth

During a speech on 21 July 2004, Geoff Hoon announced a one-year delay to allow contractual and cost issues to be resolved. The building of the carriers was confirmed in December 2005. The building is being undertaken by four companies across seven shipyards, with final block integration and assembly at Rosyth:

In December 2007, eight diesel engines and electricity generators, four for each ship, were ordered from Wärtsilä.[87] On 4 March 2008, contracts for the supply of 80,000 tonnes of steel were awarded to Corus Group,[55] with an estimated value of £65 million. Other contracts included £3 million for fibre optic cable, over £1 million for reverse osmosis equipment to provide over 500 tonnes of fresh water daily, and £4 million for aviation fuel systems.[88] On 3 April 2008, a contract for the manufacture of aircraft lifts (worth £13m) was awarded to MacTaggart Scott of Loanhead, Scotland.[89]

Bow bulb of HMS Prince of Wales at Rosyth, May 2014

In mid May 2008, the Treasury announced that it would be making available further funds on top of the regular defence budget, reportedly allowing the construction of the carriers to begin.[90] This was followed, on 20 May 2008, by the government giving the "green light" for construction of the Queen Elizabeth class, stating that it was ready to sign the contracts for full production once the creation of the planned shipbuilding joint venture between BAE Systems and the VT Group had taken place.[91] This joint venture, BVT Surface Fleet, became operational on 1 July 2008.[92] VT Group later sold its share to BAE Systems which renamed the unit BAE Systems Surface Ships. It will undertake approximately forty per cent of the project workload.[55]

On 1 September 2008, the MoD announced a £51 million package of important equipment contracts; £34 million for the highly mechanised weapons handling system for the two ships, £8 million for supply of uptake and down-take systems for both ships, £5 million for air traffic control software, £3 million for supply of pumps and associated systems engineering, and £1 million for emergency diesel generators.[93] On 6 October 2008, it was announced that contracts had been placed for "the carriers' Rolls-Royce gas turbines, generators, motors, power distribution equipment, platform management systems, propellers, shafts, steering gear, rudders and stabilisers".[94]

The construction of the two carriers involves more than 10,000 people from 90 companies, 7,000 of them in the six shipyards building the sections of the ships.[95]


Name Pennant Builders Ordered Laid down Naming Ceremony Launched (floated) Commissioned Status
Queen Elizabeth R08 Aircraft Carrier Alliance, Rosyth Dockyard 20 May 2008 7 July 2009 4 July 2014 by H.M. Queen Elizabeth II 17 July 2014 7 December 2017 Rotary Wing Trials
Prince of Wales R09 26 May 2011 8 September 2017 by H.R.H. Camilla, Duchess of Rothesay 21 December 2017 Fitting out[96]

Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth during fitting-out, December 2014

The first steel cut for the project, in July 2009, signalled the start of construction of Lower Block 3 at BAE Systems Clyde, where production of Lower Block 4 started in January 2010.[97] Meanwhile, construction of the bow Lower Block 1 was carried out at Appledore, North Devon, and was completed in March 2010.[98]

On 25 January 2010, it was announced that the Cammell Laird shipyard has secured a £44 million contract to build the flight decks of the carriers.[99] That same day, construction began in Portsmouth of the 6,000-tonne Lower Block 2 for Queen Elizabeth.[100] On 16 August 2011, the 8,000-tonne Lower Block 03 of Queen Elizabeth left BAE Systems Surface Ships' Govan shipyard in Glasgow on a large ocean-going barge. Travelling 600 miles (970 km) around the northern coast of Scotland, the block arrived at Rosyth on the evening of 20 August 2011.[101] Her forward island was built at BAE Portsmouth and attached on 14 March 2013; the aft island was attached in June 2013 and the ski jump in November 2013.[8]

Queen Elizabeth was christened on 4 July 2014,[8] and floated-out on 17 July 2014.[102] On 26 June 2017, the new carrier left Rosyth for the first time to commence sea trials. Flight trials with helicopters began in July 2017 and F-35B flight trials are expected towards the end of 2018.[102] An "operational military capability" is expected to be declared in 2020.[8]

Prince of Wales

The bow of Prince of Wales, August 2017

The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) declared that the UK needed only one aircraft carrier; however, penalty clauses in the contract meant that cancelling the second vessel would be more expensive than actually building it. The SDSR, therefore, directed that the second aircraft carrier, Prince of Wales, should be built but upon completion be either mothballed or sold.[103] The SDSR also directed that the ship be converted to a CATOBAR configuration; however, the costs associated with the conversion escalated to £2bn, leading the government to reverse its decision and build the ship to the original STOVL configuration.[104] On 26 May 2011, Defence Secretary Liam Fox cut the first steel for Prince of Wales.[105] The Royal Navy's 2012/13 yearbook stated "both carriers are likely to be commissioned and may even be capable of operating together".[106] In 2014, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced that Prince of Wales would be brought into service.[107]

As of 20 April 2016, construction of Prince of Wales was announced to be 80% complete.[108] The ship is set to be handed over to the Royal Navy in 2019 and be fully ready for front-line duties around the globe from 2023.[109]

On 1 September 2017 the HMS Prince of Wales most senior officer and captain, Captain Ian Groom confirmed that the carrier was now essential to fulfilling the Royal Navy's 'full carrier strike capability'.[110] Prince of Wales is scheduled to assume responsibility for the continuing carrier trials of the F-35B in 2019 when Queen Elizabeth enters dry-dock for her scheduled maintenance period.[111]

Initial fixed wing operations

In December 2016 a deal was signed by Secretaries Fallon and Carter allowing USMC F-35Bs to fly from HMS Queen Elizabeth on its first operational tour.[112]


In 2018 the Committee of Public Accounts determined that build cost of the two carriers was £6.212 billion, and operational costs up to March 2021 were estimated at £0.6 billion. Costs for the aircraft were uncertain at the current developmental position but estimated up to March 2021 to be £5.8 billion on initial F-35s and £0.3 billion on the Crowsnest radar system for Merlin helicopters; however these estimates were based on an old exchange rate of $1.55 to the pound even though the October 2017 exchange rate has fallen to $1.32 to the pound. Important additional equipment such as communication equipment and related software for the F-35 was not yet funded. The whole life cost of the first 48 F-35s was roughly estimated as £13 billion, or over £270 million per F-35.[113]

See also


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External links