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Queen Elizabeth class Aircraft Carrier

As at April 2020, the Navy had accepted both carriers into service. HMS Queen Elizabeth in February 2018, two months later than the target date. It has undertaken sea trials and successfully achieved its first fixed-wing flying trial in August 2018, two months ahead of schedule. The Department completed further sea trials in December 2019, testing the ship’s capabilities by performing different operating scenarios and deploying both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. HMS Prince of Wales in March 2020, delivered by target date. The Department successfully completed its first sea trials in September 2019.

By mid-2020 the Department had received two new aircraft carriers into service, had 18 Lightning II jets and had developed much of the UK infrastructure to support them. It delivered the carriers for £6.4 billion, which is just 3% above the revised figure announced to Parliament in 2013. The Department conducted successful sea trials and was working closely with the US to be ready for its first joint deployment in 2021. It had also established plans for using Carrier Strike in its early years.

The Department was, however, making slower progress in developing the crucial supporting activities that were needed to make full use of a carrier strike group, such as the Crowsnest radar system and the ability to resupply the carriers. In addition, it had not established a clear view on the future cost of enhancing, operating and supporting Carrier Strike, which creates the risk of future affordability pressures.

The Department expected to meet its target of declaring initial operating capability for Carrier Strike in December 2020, but with a basic radar capability. ‘Initial operating capability’ is a single, trained Lightning II squadron (up to 12 jets), able to embark on a joint warfighting mission with appropriate support and maritime protection. The Department has undertaken a successful programme of sea trials and conducted significant work with its counterparts from the US to prepare for the first joint deployment in 2021. The Department faced a tight timetable to develop full operating capability by 2023.

The decks of HMS Queen Elizabeth roared with the sound of F-35 Lightning jets as the famous Dambusters squadron landed on the aircraft carrier for the first time on 09 June 2020. Pilots, engineers, cyberspace and mission support staff from 617 Squadron, the UK’s operational strike squadron, embarked the carrier during a quick stop in Portsmouth for supplies before the aircraft themselves landed on board. It marked the first time 617 Squadron – famously known as the Dambusters – had fully joined HMS Queen Elizabeth as the UK prepared to deploy the next generation squadron of fighter aircraft to operate from the sea. The F-35 jets that landed on board aree the same aircraft that will sail with the ship for her maiden Global Carrier Strike Group 21 deployment in 2021.

The UK Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier would go on its first mission through the disputed South China Sea, the British Defence Secretary said 11 February 2019. The HMS Queen Elizabeth will embark F-35s belonging to both the UK and the US, UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said, on a mission that "will include the Mediterranean, Middle East and Pacific — making Global Britain a reality." The trip through the Pacific may include a route in the proximity of contested maritime features in the South China Sea, Stars and Stripes reported. "Significantly, British and American F-35s will be embedded in the carrier's air wing, enhancing the reach and lethality of our forces and reinforcing the fact that the United States remains our very closest of allies," the secretary said during an event at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.

A US Marine Corps F-35B squadron is going to serve the first-ever deployment on a foreign aircraft carrier by a US squadron in 2021, when it will set sail with the UK’s HMS Queen Elizabeth. "It's going to be a wonderful new way — and I will offer, potentially a new norm — of doing coalition combined allied operations with a maritime partner," Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, head of Marine Corps aviation, said at the Sea-Air-Space conference in Maryland in May 2019.

Two squadrons of F-35B stealth jets, the RAF’s 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) and the US Marines Corps VMFA-211 (The Wake Island Avengers), joined the 65,000-tonne carrier 22 September 2020 she sailed for exercises with allies in the North Sea. With a total of 14 jets and eight Merlin helicopters, it was the largest concentration of fighter jets to operate at sea from a Royal Navy carrier since HMS Hermes in 1983, and the largest air group of fifth generation fighters at sea anywhere in the world.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:05:22 ZULU