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CVA-01 Queen Elizabeth

The CVA-01 Queen Elizabeth did not survive the 1966 Defence White Paper – they along with the proposed Type 82 destroyer escorts were cancelled. The British government had decided to cut defence spending and withdraw from commitments East of Suez. With no follow-on big carrier the Royal Navy realised its days as a conventional fixed wing aircraft operator were numbered. The new and much smaller Invincible Class Carriers could only operate Sea Harrier V/STOL aircraft and had a very limited capacity. It is interesting to consider what might have been. If the two Qeen Elizabeth carriers had been built it almost certain that the Argentines would not have invaded the Falkland Islands and that the Royal Navy could have continued to provide a strong and effective carrier air group support to NATO. It is interesting to note that, again for political and financial reasons, that the British government turned down an offer of the loan or purchase of two or three Essex Class carriers from the US Navy – they had decided to do away with carriers and were not to be deflected from their target – in fact for a time the Invincible Class were called Through-Deck Cruisers as means of avoiding using the name aircraft carrier.

By the beginnning of the 1960s the Royal Navy had scrapped most of the wartime carriers and was operating four front line fleet carriers, a light carrier and two others which were being converted into Commando ships. The four fleet carriers were however ageing assets which would need to be replaced by the beginning of the following decade. It was therefore announced in the 1962 Defence White Paper that work would begin on the design of a new class of aircraft carriers. The CVA (Fleet Carrier, Attack) Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier was designed to replace these vessels and was considerably bigger. Displacing nearly 60,000 tons and with capacity for up to 50 modern aircraft, they would have allowed the Royal Navy to maintain its significant position in carrier aviation. The design went through a number of major changes first in size (smaller) then in propulsion in an effort to keep the project alive and within the artificial political and financial constraints applied to it.

By the late 1950s, the Royal Navy included five aircraft carriers: Ark Royal, Eagle, Victorious, Hermes and Centaur. These were all in reality World War II designs, and were too small for the next generation combat aircraft. They were war-built ships, built to get hulls launched quickly, not built to the highest naval standards. So in 1959 proposals were begun up for a new generation of ships designed for the jet age. The CVA-01 was designed from the outset to support fast, heavy and sophisticated fighter bomber aircraft, such as the Buccaneer. The project would have been a logical development for the Navy in so far as it recognised the importance of air power at sea, and was taken to full design stage.

The role of the aircraft carrier was absolutely clear in the two decades after World War II. The aircraft carrier was the new naval decisive weapon used in a global conflict for destroying similarly equipped fleets of great power adversaries. But the credibility of such systems atrophied as the threat of major conventional war receded and atomic weapons entered the arsenal. Initially, the Royal Navy thought the Navy would aim to survive the nuclear exchange, contribute to it where possible and then fight conventionally afterwards. The problem was that this was probably unlikely to occur. Against this backdrop, the aircraft carriers in service were ageing physically, deteriorating in effectiveness, and becoming steadily obsolete.

By 1962 design work for a ship to replace HMS Victorious had been put in hand. If the UK was to continue to deploy air power around the world and to support forces wherever circumstances may require, the aircraft carrier would frequently be the only means of doing it. This will become increasingly true as the use of bases is restricted, and staging and over-flying rights became progressively harder to negotiate. "Victorious's" successor would need to be in operation in 1971 and, with a normal twenty years' life, should last until 1991.

This made the task of forecasting the carrier requirement difficult, but the Navy was getting on with the design. It was the aim that she should carry aircraft common to both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Such an aircraft, to undertake the rτles of strike, fighter and reconnaissance, would be a bigger aircraft than any that the Fleet Air Arm had. It would be larger and heavier than the Buccaneer which, itself, has an all-out weight of 45,000–50,000 lb. She would need to carry a substantial number of these aircraft and, in addition, airborne early warning aircraft and some helicopters.

To embark these aircraft, and the men that go with them, it seemed likely that a ship of at least 50,000 tons would be needed. That meant a cost of, roughly, £50 million. Studies had shown that a ship of 50,000 tons can carry twice as many aircraft as a 40,000-ton carrier. The development of a common aircraft for the two Services could give an entirely new significance to inter-Service co-operation.

The 1964 Defence White Paper, by the then Defence Minister, Mr Peter Thorneycroft, first formally announced that preliminary work on CVA 01 had been put in hand. This followed a Cabinet decision of July 1963 thay essential design and development contracts for items of her equipment should be placed with industry. The MoD (Navy) Ship Department at Bath undertook design and preparation of specifications, ready to invite tenders early in 1955 if the project survived the Defence Review.

In its final form the design was radical. The fully angled flight deck concept was abandoned in favor of a "three lane" arrangement which would provide a port side landing area - angled 3 1/2 degrees off the fore-and-aft axis - occupying about half the flight deck width A two-way marshaling / taxiing area was to starboard, split amidships by the island. Greater effective parking area is obtained on the flight deck by having the landing area at a reduced angle to the center line than those of Eagle and Victorious, and well over to port, thus reducing the wasted area of "fly 4" — that part of the flight deck, unusable for parking during operations, which lies outboard of the landing area. Two-thirds of the aircraft complement can be parked completely clear of both landing and starboard catapult areas.

The island itself was to be 200 by 18 feet, with access tunnels athwartships to permit movement of deck vehicles and personnel. Two catapults would be fitted, at the waist and forward starboard. The two steam catapults of new design would have longer stroke (250ft) than present catapults. One will be mounted in the landing area and one on the starboard side forward, for it would not be possible to have a port-side forward catapult and still attain the long stroke considered necessary for forthcoming naval aircraft.

There would be two lifts — one on the starboard deck edge aft of the island, and the other inboard and forward of the island. Four arrester wires hooked to the new direct-acting SPRAG (waterspray arrester gear) units would be installed. There would be a single hangar, about 660ft long by 80ft, with roller shutters opening to the missile deck at the stern, and permitting the engines of the most foward aircraft to be run while on the hangar deck, without interfering with flight deck operations. It has been stated that two-thirds of the aircraft complement could be housed in the hangar and that further increases in complement would be possible before the ship was full to resent-day, deck-crammed standards.

The CVA-01, a big aircraft carrier, was to be conventionally powered. Nuclear propulsion was rejected for this project on grounds of cost and the carrier will be propelled by oil-fired steam turbines driving three propellers. Air-conditioned accommodation for a company of over 3,000 will be provided. Such would be the demand for power aboard that 20,000kW generating capability is specified — more than twice that of the Eagle.

It was projected that these ships would displace 54,500 tons (offering the best cost effectiveness while compatible with existing RN dockyards) and be 936 feet (293.52 meters) long overall. The dimensions of the flight deck would have been 884 feet (269.4 meters) by 191 feet (58.2). Unlike contemporary carriers, CVA Ol's flight deck would not extend the full length of the ship but would be cut away aft for a missile deck.

The fixed battery, one twin Sea Dart system, was located at the stern. CVA 01 would carry her own defensive ship-to-air missiles at the stern, and a full range of underwater detection gear and underwater weapons to supplement those of her escorts.

The air group would consist of eighteen F-4 Phantoms, eighteen Buccaneers, four Gannet AEW aircraft and five Sea King helicopters. It appeared that the Sikorsky S-61R-3D was the RN's favorite for the Wessex replacement. If the the CVA-01 project had gone ahead it's air wing would have been outdated by the early-mid 1990's. Such an active carrier capability would have undoubtedly altered the UK's thinking on aircraft procurement. If the CVA-01 had embarked Harriers, the Harriers themselves would be able to carry more warload per sortie thanks to the longer flight deck.

The aircraft operations control would be fully automated with developed equipment evolving from ADA — action data automation — operational aboard Eagle. The operations center would be located on No 5 deck, amidships and beneath the hangar deck, served by fast passenger lift via command accommodation on No 2 deck to the bridge. Also on two decks with direct access to the flight deck and its own fast lift to the operations room would be the aircrew briefing complex. Main surveillance would be provided by 3D radar, with separate facilities for carriercontrolled approaches. The ship would have two independent inertial navigation systems, with facilities for alignment with airborne I/N systems.

Aircraft weapons would be stowed in four magazine groups, each served by a weapon lift delivering to both hangar and flight decks. About 50 percent of all weapons will be stowed in bulk and the remainder on pallets, fully tested and ready for immediate use. Facilities for replenishment (of both solid and liquid stores) by fleet auxiliaries while the carrier is simultaneously operating aircraft would be provided, and to minimise the clutter of mobile equipment many flight-deck facilities would be built in.

The first CVA-01 (probably to be called Queen Elizabeth) would have entered service in 1973, with the second unit in about 1975-7. There has been some confusion over how many ships were intended to be ordered. When the program started in 1962, it was a five ship program, as the RN wanted to replace the existing carrier fleet on a one for one basis. By 1964 this dropped to four ships as the Navy had made do with no more than four available at any given time with one in major refit. The new class wouldn't require such major reconstructions. By 1965-66 the number dropped to three for financial reasons.

Going by the RN's past record on keeping ships they would have been due for retirement between 2005-2010. Queen Elizabeth was the offical name and the second carrier (never offically ordered) would have been Prince of Wales. Another name seen for the second ship was Duke of Edinburgh, the title of the Queen's husband. This name was used before for an armoured cruiser about 1900. The investiture of Charles as The Prince of Wales took place on 01 July 1969. Traditionally the first ship of the line [or later, a capital ship] in a monarch's reign was named Royal George, or Royal Edward, etc, without regard to the number of kings of that name. But King Edward VII broke with tradition, preferring HMS King Edward VII, a title he had chosen himself, in spite of being known for decades as Prince Albert before he became king. The second HMS King George V was so named at the insistence of King George VI, (with his brother, the uncrowned and abdicated King Edward VIII commemorated by his former title (HMS Prince of Wales) and King George VI himself by his former title (HMS Duke of York).

Potential prime contractors for the program included Harland and Wolff, John Brown / Fairfield, Swann Hunter / Vickers, and Cammell Laird. But none of these firms had the facilities to complete the big carrier without substantial works being undertaken. Of the four, Harland and Wolff was clearly in the best position to bid, but one company alone would not make for a competition.

The cost of CVA-01 crept upward - estimated at £66 million in May 1965. By September 1965 a variety of design changes had brought the estimated cost down to a range of between £51 million and £56 million. In January 1966 the cost was estimated at £70 million, allowing for contingencies. Studies had shown that the attributable to the Navy s front-line carrier-based aircraft tended to be between two and two-and-a-half times higher than that of comparable aircraft based on land. The Chief of the Air Staff wrote a minute to the Chief Scientific Advisor suggesting, "I gather that the Admiralty now acknowledge that carriers and sea-borne support are useless for dealing with inland emergencies" The Air Ministry had their island basing strategy compared directly against the new carrier program. The Chief of the Air Staff sought to ensure that, "both sets of figures are put on a comparable basis". As a more junior Air Ministry figure suggested there would be significant difficulty for the Admiralty requiring £620 million vis-ΰ-vis the £45 million island basing strategy.