CVF Future Aircraft Carrier Design

The two vessels, which are expected to displace around 60,000 tonnes each, will be the largest and most powerful surface warships ever built in the UK. The CVF carriers will easily be the biggest warships ever built for the Royal Navy, far larger than the old fleet carrier Eagle or the battleship Vanguard. The CVF was intended to be between 275 and 300 meters long (ie about 900 to 1,000 feet), with a full displacement between 50,000 to 65,000 tons [the higher figures for CTOL, lower for STOVL]. Assuming that 50,000 tons (metric) is the light displacement, the full load displacement of CVF could easily be 65,000 tons compared with the 50,800 short tons (50,000 metric tons) of Ark Royal in her later days.

A decision was taken not to use nuclear powered propulsion due to the higher cost.

The BAE artists concept as of mid-2001 of its CTOL CVF design shows a number of changes since the pictures earlier in the year. The island is now much smaller (but with a very prominent and almost observatory style bridge and FLYCO) and very stealthy. The SAMPSON MFR radar is replaced with a rotating long range antenna radar. The VLS silo for Aster 15 missile is eliminated, presumably on cost grounds. The Phalanx CIWS mounts have been relocated, and a closer look reveals Sea RAM not Phalanx. There's now a separate "main mast" aft of the island. An elevator has been relocated to starboard deckside, aft of the radar mast. Two EMALS type catapults are very prominent, as these are 93 meters long they give a reasonable idea of scale, and a 300 meters overall length still looks about right. The catapults have steam or mositure rising off them which suggest steam, and no arrestor wires are shown.

Following the Strategic Defence Review, options were examined for a successor to the Royal Navy Sea Harrier and the Royal Air Force Harrier GR7 from 2012. FCBA is to provide the Joint Force 2000 (joint command for all Harrier forces) with a multi-role fighter/attack aircraft. The FCBA in-service date will coincide with the first of the new aircraft carriers (CVF) to enter service. The current planning assumption is the Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) being developed for US Air force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Feasibility Studies into alternative options to JSF for a cost effective solution to the FCBA requirement were also conducted. These options are the Conventional Carrier Variant of JSF, the US F18E, the French Rafale-M, a 'navalised' Eurofighter and an advanced Harrier. The plan was to submit a Business Case in October 2000, seeking approval to either sign the MOU or to carry out further work on the non-JSF options.

The STOVL variant of the Lockheed Martin F35 Joint Strike Fighter was selected in 2002 to fulfil the FJCA role and in order to maximise the flexibility that CVF can offer over its potential 50 year service life, the carriers will be built to an innovative adaptable design. This CV-based design will essentially be fitted for but not with catapults and arrestor gear and a RAMP will be installed in order to operate the STOVL F35 aircraft. If required, post-JSF, the design will be capable of modification to operate aircraft requiring a catapult launch and arrested recovery.

The Carrier Air Group will also include the Maritime Airborne Surveillance & Control (MASC) system, which will replace the capability currently provided by Sea King AEW helicopters. MASC will provide sensor coverage against air and surface threats, together with command and control for other air operations. CVF will also be capable of supporting the operation of helicopters in a wide variety of roles that could include anti-submarine warfare, attack and support.

As of early 2002 the two new carriers were expected to displace between 55,000 and 60,000 tonnes. On this basis these immensely powerful and impressive aircraft carriers will be the largest warships ever built in the UK, or indeed anywhere outside the USA and the Russian Federation. They are expected to cost no more than about 3 billion to build.

Many claims were made when the Defence Procurement Agency (DPA) and the Smart Acquisition Process were introduced, including the aim to provide better equipment more quickly and cheaply than was possible using the previous system. However, insufficient consideration appeared to be given to the personnel aspects associated with the increased automation, high reliability and improved availability predicted for future platforms. When it is realised that for current designs, personnel costs amount to between 30 and 40% of the Whole Life Costs of a warship, it is obvious that the effort invested in optimising these aspects of ship design are at least as important as those associated with weapons, sensors and machinery fit.

Although the Second Sea Lord's (2SL) organisation had enjoyed some success in influencing future ship design, for example the decision to adopt a much improved accommodation standard in the Type 45, no additional staff had been allocated for this task and the approach was, at best, piecemeal. Recognising that the requirements of the future navy were not being adequately covered at an early enough stage in the design process, the Second Sea Lord recently established funding for two posts working within the DPA at Abbey Wood. The aim of these posts is to ensure that the full range of personnel issues for the whole life of the platform is better addressed during the procurement stage. Cdr Brian Parsons, an Air Engineer Officer, is acting as liaison officer for the Future Aircraft Carrier (CVF), the Future Joint Combat Aircraft (FJCA) and Maritime Airborne Surveillance Capability (MASC). Commander Ian Parker, a submarine Marine Engineer Officer, will soon take up the post looking after the Type 45 Frigate, Future Surface Combatant (FSC) and Astute class submarines. With the busy future shipbuilding programme, both officers can expect to be kept fully employed.

Working closely with the Directorate of Equipment Capability (DEC), the Integrated Project Teams (IPT) and Contractors, the Liaison Officers facilitate dialogue with the various parts of the Second Sea Lord's Organisation responsible for training, service conditions and manning structures. With a myriad of personnel initiatives currently being developed, it is vital that authorities in the Acquisition area are aware of the latest changes so that the aspirations of our personnel are taken due account of at every stage of ship design. Of particular significance is the close relationship with TopMast to support the development and delivery of future manning policy for platforms in order to allow through-life costs to be optimised whilst providing flexible and sustainable personnel structures. The officers also act as 'intelligent customers' for the various defence contractors and are able to provide informed and pragmatic advice on some of the more radical manning options which industry is considering.

In October 2004 a small scale model of the CVF "Delta" design was displayed at the Thales paviliaon at Euronaval. Several significant changes from the "Alpha" design graphics released in the first half of 2003 were evident. Most notable were the prominent raked funnels on each island, along with the apparently reduced electronics suite (antennae will be inside the low observables masts). The hull was shortened by 20 feet fore and aft of the forward island, while the flightdeck (and hull sponsons) width was reduced aft. The design featured a split bow ski-jump with deck parking to starboard. The major change to the flight deck include provisions for an angled landing lane in the future. The side-by-side JSF launch positions in the Alpha design were replaced by a single JBD position along the aft FLYCO island. Both islands incorporate signature reduction features, and the aft island has been greatly simplified. Self defence systems include a Phalanx CIWS system and a DS-30B light cannon in small forward port and starboard sponsons.

By late 2005 Design Delta overall parameters include an estimated displacement of 65,000 tons, 280M length, 70M beam, 9M draught with a complement of 1500 (including Joint Force Air Group (JFAG)) and a total airgroup size of about 40 (JCA, MASC and Merlin). Design Delta is an adaptable design that, while fitted with a ski-jump to operate short take off and vertical landing aircraft on build, can be altered later in its service life to accommodate catapults and arrestor gear to fly conventional carrier aircraft. This is future-proofing for a ship with a 50 year life.

The CVF Delta design concept taken forward into 2006 is 283 meters long overall (263.5 meters between perpendiculars), with a beam of 39 meters, and a deep displacement of approximately 65,000 tons. With a flight deck width of 69 meters, the flight deck will cover an area of four acres (over twice the deck estate of two Invincible-class carriers).

The October 2010 Strategic Defense Review stated that "A single carrier needs to be fully effective. As currently designed, the Queen Elizabeth will not be fully interoperable with key allies, since their naval jets could not land on it. Pursuit of closer partnership is a core strategic principle for the Strategic Defence and Security Review because it is clear that the UK will in most circumstances act militarily as part of a wider coalition. We will therefore install catapult and arrestor gear. This will delay the in-service date of the new carrier from 2016 to around 2020. But it will allow greater interoperability with US and French carriers and naval jets. It provides the basis for developing joint Maritime Task Groups in the future. This should both ensure continuous carrier-strike availability, and reduce the overall carrier protection requirements on the rest of the fleet, releasing ships for other naval tasks such as protection of key sea-lanes, or conducting counter- piracy and narcotics operations.

The strike needs to be made more capable. Installing the catapult and arrestor will allow the UK to acquire the carrier-variant of Joint Strike Fighter ready to deploy on the converted carrier instead of the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant. This version of the jet has a longer range and greater payload: this, not large numbers of aircraft, is the critical requirement for precision strike operations in the future. The UK plans to operate a single model of JSF, instead of different land and naval variants. Overall, the carrier-variant of the JSF will be cheaper, reducing through-life costs by around 25%."

But critics suggest this design is not without problems: Problems inherent in the deck layout of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier when configured for catapults and arrestor wires are as follows:

  1. The foremost island precludes mounting the forward catapult along the starboard side deck edge. It also occupies high value/high utility deck space with access to catapults,aircraft lifts and the landing area. The utility of flight deck areas adjacent to the foremost island is degraded by their small size,awkward shape and proximity to the superstructure. The turbulent wake from the forward island affects both deck operations and flying operations as aircraft must pass behind the island as they approach to land on the carrier. Corrosive exhaust gasses from the forward uptake also have negative effects on both deck and flying operations.
  2. The starboard catapult cannot be used or prepared for use without interfering with the operation of both the landing area and the port catapult.
  3. The Aft island occupies high value/high utility deck space with access to catapults,aircraft elevators and the landing area. The utility of flight deck areas adjacent to the aft island is degraded by their small size,awkward shape and proximity to the superstructure. The turbulent wake from the aft island affects both deck operations and flying operations as aircraft must pass behind the island as they approach to land on the carrier. Corrosive exhaust gasses from the aft uptake also have negative effects on both deck and flying operations.
  4. The port catapult cannot be used without interfering with the operation of both the landing area and the starboard catapult.
  5. The proximity of the aft aircraft lift to the arrestor wires and landing area precludes aircraft movements from the starboard aftermost parking area,"Fly 3", when the aft lift is being used during landing operations.
  6. The port aftermost parking area,"Fly 4",has very low utility/low value as during landing operations it is isolated from the aircraft lifts and other aircraft arming,fuelling and handling areas whilst the catapult it services cannot be used or prepared for use.

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