Military


Queen Elizabeth class
Future Aircraft Carrier CVF (002)

The F-35B VSTOL Joint Strike Fighter will be the new multirole fast jet for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. It will serve as the strike capability for the new Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier. The Government attracted criticism for its decision in 2010 to select the the F-35C CTOL over the F-35B VSTOL variant originally chosen by the previous Government, and again for reverting back to the original F-35B VSTOL choice two years later. The Ministry of Defence acted quickly once it realized, in early 2012, the extent to which its 2010 decision to procure the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) had been based on immature data and flawed assumptions. In May 2012, the Department announced that it was reverting to procuring the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the fighter. This produced a 3 year delay (from 2020 to 2023) to the Department’s planned carrier variant option delivery, arising between the 2010 and 2012 decisions.

When this program was approved in 2007, it was supposed to yield two aircraft carriers, available from 2016 and 2018, at a cost of £3.65 billion. By 2013 the program was on course to spend £5.5 billion, get one operational carrier, and have no aircraft carrier capability for nearly a decade. The decisions taken at the time of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2010, including changing the carriers and the aircraft flying from them, were supposed to save the taxpayer £3.4 billion. The Ministry believed that the cost of converting the carriers would be between £500 million and £800 million. By May 2012 it had realised that the true cost would be as a high as £2 billion. Following the 2012 reversion, the Ministry estimates that it will avoid just £600 million through this decision. A further delay of another 2 years flows from the Ministry's decision to postpone the early warning system that is a key part of the Carrier program. This means the UK will have no Carrier Strike operating capability until 2022.

A key factor was that the CTOL carrier variant option of the JSF could also not be delivered until 2023, three years later than the planned date of 2020. The Chief of Defence Staff judged that, in the emerging security environment, such a gap in capability would be undesirable. When the Department reverted to the STOVL option, it announced that it would deliver the Carrier Strike by 2020. However, a week later, it delayed investment in Crowsnest, the helicopter based radar system making up the third element of Carrier Strike, meaning that the system is not now scheduled to be fully operational until 2022, two years later than the carriers and aircraft.

A new larger class of Aircraft Carrier, as a replacement for the three existing Invincible Class ships. Initial estimates are that the ships could be 300 meters long and displace about 40,000 tons capable of carrying up to 50 aircraft, resulting in a ship that would be twice as large as the current Invincible class. As of 2012 the planned displacement had grown to over 65,000 tons, with an air wing that would include 12 F-35C Joint Strike Fighters. These carriers are to be the biggest ships ever built for the Royal Navy.

CVF is a flagship program for the UK and central to the commitment in the Strategic Defence Review to modern, flexible and highly capable forces. The two larger and more capable vessels will replace the current Invincible class aircraft carriers. Assessment work is investigating aircraft carrier design options. These include designs capable of accommodating short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) and conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) aircraft.

They will be conventionally powered. The carrier design taken forward will be dependent on the final choice of aircraft that the UK buys. There are two carrier-borne versions of JSF planned: one taking off using a ski-jump and landing vertically; the other launched with a catapult and landing with the aid of an arrestor wire.

The requirement for the Future Aircraft Carrier (CVF) was endorsed in the Strategic Defence Review (SDR). The need for rapidly deployable forces with the reach and self-sufficiency to act independently of host-nation support confirmed the requirement for aircraft carriers, but SDR also concluded that the ability to deploy offensive air- power would be central to future force projection operations, with carriers operating the largest possible range of aircraft in the widest possible range of roles.

The current Invincible Class of carriers were designed for Cold War anti-submarine warfare operations. With helicopters and a limited air-defence capability provided by a relatively small number of embarked Sea Harriers, it was judged that this capability would no longer meet future UK requirements. It was therefore decided to replace the Invincible Class with two larger and more capable aircraft carriers able to operate up to 50 aircraft, both fixed-wing and helicopters.

It is planned that CVF's offensive air-power will be provided primarily by the Future Carrier Borne Aircraft (FCBA). The carrier air group will also operate the Future Organic Airborne Early Warning (FOAEW) system together with helicopters from all three Services in a variety of roles.

The October 2010 Strategic Defense Review stated that "We will need to operate only one aircraft carrier. We cannot now foresee circumstances in which the UK would require the scale of strike capability previously planned. We are unlikely to face adversaries in large-scale air combat. We are far more likely to engage in precision operations, which may need to overcome sophisticated air defence capabilities. The single carrier will therefore routinely have 12 fast jets embarked for operations while retaining the capacity to deploy up to the 36 previously planned, providing combat and intelligence capability much greater than the existing Harriers. It will be able to carry a wide range of helicopters, including up to 12 Chinook or Merlin transports and eight Apache attack helicopters. The precise mix of aircraft will depend on the mission, allowing the carrier to support a broad range of operations including landing a Royal Marines Commando Group, or a Special Forces Squadron conducting a counterterrorism strike, assisting with humanitarian crises or the evacuation of UK nationals."

On 07 July 2011 a the press briefing from the Prime Minister’s spokesperson "Asked if the Prime Minister had any regrets about scrapping aircraft carriers, the PMS said that the Government thought it had made the right decision. The PMS added that we had inherited a plan to build two aircraft carriers which were not even inter-operable with our closest allies, the US and France, and with contractual obligations which meant that it was almost as expensive to cancel them as it was to build them. What we had been doing was tying to sort out that mess."

The 2010 Strategic Defence & Security Review confirmed the requirement for a Carrier Strike capability as part of MOD’s Future Force 2020. In order to deliver overall savings to Defence, it concluded that the Carrier Strike component would be based around the Carrier Variant of the Joint Strike Fighter which would fly from an operational Queen Elizabeth Class carrier converted to a Carrier Variant configuration (fitted with catapults and arrestor gear). The Strategic Defence & Security Review confirmed that both carriers should be built, with one to be operational and the second kept in extended readiness or sold. The future of the non-converted carrier is likely to be a matter for the Strategic Defence & Security Review 2015.

As of 2012 it appeared that HMS Queen Elizabeth would be completed in a STOVL configuration by 2016, to conduct trials, and exercises with allied Harriers and F-35B’s. HMS Prince of Wales will then be delivered in 2019 in a cat and trap configuration, entering operational in 2020 the F-35C. Plans were that HMS Queen Elizabeth would go into reserve, and could later be refitted and converted to the CTOL configuration in the 2022 time frame, allowing the Royal Navy to guarantee a British strike carrier [without cooperation with France] 100% rather than 60% of the time.

In May 2012, the Secretary of State announced the Department's decision to cancel Conversion, and to revert to the pre Strategic Defence and Security Review position of operating the Queen Elizabeth Class as a Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing platform. The decision to revert will result in a write off of costs accrued up to 10 May 2012. As of the end of April 2012, up to £44m had been committed and the Department will be liable for associated rundown costs.






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