Queen Elizabeth class (aircraft carrier)

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Royal Navy
Queen Elizabeth class
HMS Queen Elizabeth in Rosyth Dockyard MOD 45158230.jpg
Builders: BAE Systems , VT Group , Babcock International Group
Commissioning: 2017
planned operating time: 50 years
Home port: Portsmouth
Preliminary data
Displacement: 65,000 to 70,000 t (max.)
Length: 284 m
Width (trunk): 39 m
Width (flight deck): 73 m
Draft: 11 m (max.)
Drive: 2 × Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbines with 36 MW each
Top speed: 27+ knots
Range: 10,000 to 11,000 miles at 18 knots
Crew: 1,450
Armament: 3 × Phalanx CIWS , 4 × 30 mm guns
Airplanes: 40 planes and helicopters
Cost per ship: £ 1.95 billion to £ 2.5 billion (estimated)

The Queen Elizabeth class (formerly known as the CVF Project ) is an aircraft carrier class of the British Royal Navy . A total of two ships were built to replace the three Invincible- class aircraft carriers : the HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) (named after Elizabeth I ) and the HMS Prince of Wales (R09) (named after the Prince of Wales ). Along with the Russian Admiral Kuznetsov class , they are among the largest aircraft carriers ever built outside of the United States .

The commissioning of the first carrier was originally planned for 2012 and that of the second for 2015. According to the Strategic Defense and Security Review ( SDSR ) from 2010, the first carrier should then only be commissioned in 2016 and provisionally used as a helicopter carrier . The second ship should not be commissioned until 2020 and be equipped with twelve F-35C Lightning IIs. After the second carrier was put into service, the first should be provisionally allocated to the reserve and then either sold or used in alternation with the other.

In May 2012, however, the 2010 decision was reversed. The ships should now be designed to operate the F-35B. The reason is the exorbitant increase in the estimated conversion costs of 2 billion pounds (for a ship). The number of F-35Bs to be procured will not be decided until the upcoming SDSR in 2015, as was originally the case for the second ship. However, in view of the Ukraine crisis, the decision regarding the second ship was made in 2014 to operate both ships in parallel. This guarantees an uninterrupted operational readiness despite the usual shipyard stays.

On the basis of these carriers, another ship was also planned for the French Navy under the project name Porte-Avions 2 . These plans emerged in the first decade of the 21st century and have been on hold since the outbreak of the financial crisis.


First plans

Planning for the construction of new aircraft carriers began in 1994. A replacement for the three Invincible-class aircraft carriers was to be found under the project name CVSG (R) (Aircraft Carrier, Support, Guided missile (Replacement)). In 1997 the project name was changed to CVF (Carrier, Vehicular, Future). The original concepts envisaged three small aircraft carriers, which should roughly correspond to their predecessors with a displacement of between 20,000 and 25,000 tons. Alternatively, the purchase or new construction of American carrier ships of the Tarawa class was also considered.

In the course of the Strategic Defense Review in 1998 the decision was made to replace the previous carriers with much larger ships. Due to the increased performance, two new buildings should now be sufficient. The Department of Defense (MOD) made this decision against the background that the Invincible-class carriers had increasingly been used in offensive roles since the end of the Cold War and their actual task, the submarine hunt and the support of US naval units, moved into the background. However, due to their small size and a maximum capacity of 20 aircraft, they were only suitable to a limited extent for these new tasks. Larger carrier ships with more warplanes therefore seemed imperative to fulfill future tasks.

Concept phase

In December 1998, the procurement measure ST (S) 7068 was officially adopted. The shipyards in question were now asked for a concept for a non-nuclear aircraft carrier with a capacity of 48 aircraft and helicopters, which was to be built entirely in the United Kingdom . The cost of the entire program, including the construction of two ships, should not exceed £ 2 billion . The first carrier should be able to be put into service in 2012, the second in 2015 at the latest. At the beginning of 1999, however, a parliamentary committee commissioned a study to discuss the conditions and financial outlay under which the current aircraft carriers could remain in service for ten years and the commissioning of new carriers could thus be postponed until 2022. This could have stretched the budget for building the new ships over a longer period of time. However, the study, called Further Special Refit , came to the conclusion that the benefits would not justify the financial expense.

On May 5, 1999, the MOD announced that two arms companies had submitted concepts. These were British Aerospace (later BAE Systems ) and Thomson-CSF (later Thales UK ). Funding of £ 6 million each has been granted to both groups to further develop their concepts. By May 2000, BAE Systems had submitted two different designs, one for an aircraft carrier in CTOL design for conventional aircraft and one in STOVL design for vertical take-offs. Thales UK did the same and added an additional design for a STOBAR carrier on which the planes would take off via a ski jump but land with the help of safety ropes. As a result of the decision that the carriers should be equipped with a variant of the F-35 Lightning II , the STOBAR concept was discarded in 2001. In December 2002 MOD finally selected the STOVL variant of the Lightning II, the F-35B, for its future carriers, which also made the CTOL concepts obsolete. At the same time, BAE Systems and Thales UK were instructed to design the girders in the STOVL design, but to construct them in such a way that they could be converted into CTOL girders at a later date with little effort. The background to this requirement was that the new carriers should have a service life of 50 years, but the F-35 would be retired after about 30 years.

Future Carrier Alliance

On January 30, 2003, the MOD announced that it considered the formation of an alliance between the two competing armaments companies to be the most sensible solution in order to bundle the competencies of both companies. The Future Carrier Alliance (FCA) should be led by BAE Systems, with Thales UK being responsible for large parts of the design. Other corporations should be selected as suppliers at a later date. Critics of this alliance claimed that Thales UK was originally supposed to be awarded the contract, but that it was considered politically unenforceable as the parent company Thales is a French company. BAE Systems and trade unionists had already pointed out in advance that it would be irresponsible to have a British aircraft carrier built by a French company. After the keel of the first ship was laid, the alliance was renamed Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA).

The concept that the FCA was to build on was Thales UK's Design Alpha . It stipulated that the ships should have a displacement of about 65,000 tons and a length of 290 m. The MOD planned to make a definitive decision on the budget by the end of 2003 and finally to award the final orders for the construction of the ships in April 2004. However, this optimistic view was soon discarded when it became clear that the problems were bigger than anticipated. Due to rising costs, a scaled-down design for the beams was discussed from mid-2003, the Bravo design . It now provided for beams with a displacement of 55,000 tons and a length of 266 m. The width of the flight deck was to be reduced from 74 to 66 m. As a reaction to objections from the Navy to the Bravo design, the Delta design was presented at the end of 2004 , with a displacement of almost 60,000 tons and a length of 280 m. However, it was not until October 2006 for the FCA to come up with its final design. This design, known as Design Delta (II) , increased the displacement to 64,500 tons, the length to 284 m and the width to 73 m. The design for the girders thus largely corresponded to the original Alpha design . The later dimensions of the completed ships can still differ slightly from these key data.

In line with the ongoing discussions about the size of the carriers, the final decision on the construction of the ships, the Main Gate Decision, was first postponed from April 2004 to November 2005 and later to mid-2007. On July 25, 2007, Defense Secretary Des Browne finally announced that the girders would definitely be built and that the difficulties had largely been resolved.

The contracts to build the two ships were officially signed on July 3, 2008 on board the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal . According to the plans at the time, the HMS Queen Elizabeth should be put into service in 2014, the sister ship HMS Prince of Wales should follow in 2016. In December 2008, however, the Ministry of Defense announced that the commissioning of the ships could be delayed by one to two years due to the tight defense budget.

Strategic Defense and Security Review 2010

After the Conservative Party's victory in the general election in May 2010 , Prime Minister David Cameron commissioned a Strategic Defense and Security Review ( White Paper ). In the course of this measure, the procurement of the two aircraft carriers was also called into question. According to the White Paper published on October 19, 2010, construction of the beams will continue, but there should be significant changes. In order to be able to use the cheaper and, from the government's point of view, more powerful C variant of the F-35 on board the carrier, the STOVL concept of the ships was discarded at that time. Instead, the second aircraft carrier for the use of CTOL aircraft was to be equipped with safety cables and electromagnetic launch catapults (EMALS, Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System ) analogous to the American Gerald R. Ford class . Due to the changes required for this, the launch of the carrier would have been delayed until 2020. The first ship should therefore initially not have catapults and safety ropes and should only be used with helicopters. Contrary to this representation, Prime Minister Cameron declared in parliament on October 19, 2010 that he thought it would be sensible to equip the first porter with catapults and safety ropes immediately. When the second ship is put into service, the first should be put in reserve, used in alternation with the other carrier or sold abroad. The number of aircraft to be procured is to be significantly reduced, a number of around 50 aircraft is likely, so the Prince of Wales should only be equipped with twelve F-35C and only carry the maximum capacity of 36 aircraft in an emergency. The exact procedure should be defined in the next Strategic Defense Review in 2015. Contrary to the statement made in autumn 2010, however, the plans were changed in the summer of 2011 to the effect that both ships should now be equipped with catapults and safety ropes. With the renewed U-turn in May 2012 (see above) back to the original concept, all renovation plans were shelved.


The aircraft carriers are being built in a modular manner at various locations. The large modules of the fuselage and superstructure are manufactured by BAE Systems in Govan, VT Group in Portsmouth and Babcock in Appledore. Other smaller modules are being built at Cammell, Laird & Company in Birkenhead, A&P Tyne in Hebburn and Babcock in Rosyth. The final assembly of the girders will take place at Babcock in Rosyth. Plans from March 2007 to build parts of the British girders in France have been discarded due to delays on the French side. The construction of the HMS Queen Elizabeth officially began on July 7, 2009.

Participation of France

Design for the Porte-Avions 2

Since the launch of the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in 2001, the purchase of a second carrier has been considered in France. In 2004 President Jacques Chirac officially confirmed that France was interested in participating in the CVF project. On March 6, 2006, the United Kingdom and France agreed to cooperate on further planning. At the Euronaval trade fair in October 2006, France announced that the British concept was more than 90 percent in line with the French requirements for the Porte-Avions 2 and participation was considered certain. Only minor modifications were envisaged, such as direct design as CTOL girders, although it paid off that the UK had the girders designed from the outset so that they could be converted relatively easily from STOVL to CTOL. However, the decision to build was postponed until the project was abandoned in 2013 and removed from the French White Paper on Defense and National Security.



In June 2003, BAE Systems announced that the cost of development and construction would be expected to be £ 3.8 billion instead of the original budget of £ 2.0 billion. Considerations began to significantly reduce the size of the carriers in order to reduce the costs to £ 2.8 billion. However, the then Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon declared in mid-2004 that a reduction would significantly reduce performance. The idea of ​​building just one large aircraft carrier was also rejected.

In October 2006, the FCA submitted the final design for the carriers to MOD, based on the Delta (II) design . This again largely corresponded to the originally planned dimensions. The total cost was put at £ 3.9 billion. This budget was approved by the government on July 25, 2007, although efforts will continue to be made not to reach the full budget. In June 2009, citing information from the companies involved in the construction of the ships, the BBC reported that the total cost to the porters had risen to around £ 5 billion.

F-35 Lightning II


F-35 Lightning II

Parallel to the budget problems, complications arose with the acquisition of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft . As early as 2002, the MOD's decision to purchase the F-35B and not the CTOL version F-35C had been criticized. The plan provided for 100 Royal Air Force (RAF) and 50 Royal Navy aircraft to be placed under their command, which they should use together on the carriers, as was the case with the previous model Hawker Siddeley Harrier . In 2004, however, the RAF demanded that the F-35A be ordered because it considered it to be more powerful, making its 100 machines useless for the STOVL carriers. The Royal Navy would only have 50 machines left for their STOVL carriers. Taking into account the regular deployment cycles, a maximum of 30 aircraft would be ready for use for both carriers at any time.

There were also problems with the development of the F-35B. The manufacturer Lockheed Martin announced that among other things there were problems with the weight of the machine, a complication that had already occurred during the development of the high- flyer Harrier in the 1960s. Because of these problems, a review of the decision in favor of the STOVL variant was ordered in October 2004. An initial interim result in 2005 was that the STOVL version was still favored, but that the already discarded CTOL concept was also being considered again. In April 2007, the MOD confirmed that it would continue to closely monitor the development of the different variants of the F-35 and keep all options open. With the signing of the contracts for the construction of the two aircraft carriers in the STOVL design in July 2008, the MOD finally decided on the F-35B.

In October 2010, however, this decision was rejected. The new government decided to build the carriers in CTOL design and to use the conventional F-35C instead of the F-35B.

Cooperation with the USA

In the course of 2005, problems arose in cooperation with the USA. They announced that the F-35 would not be equipped with the F-136 engine developed in England, but exclusively with the American F-135 turbine. In addition, the MOD complained in early 2006 - similar to the defense ministries of Italy and Australia - about a lack of information about the progress and technology of the F-35. The then Prime Minister Tony Blair announced in March 2006 that the problems had been resolved. However, the Defense Committee of the British Parliament contradicted this representation in December 2006.


In 2008, MOD confirmed to Parliament's Defense Committee that there would not be enough F-35s available when HMS Queen Elizabeth went into service in 2014. A sufficient number of these aircraft will not be available until 2018 to equip the carriers with them. Accordingly, the old Harrier GR.9, which were already used on the aircraft carriers of the Invincible class, were to be used in the first few years . However, due to the decision to withdraw the Harrier fleet in October 2010, this plan will not be pursued any further. At the same time, the commissioning of the two new aircraft carriers was postponed to 2020. At this point in time, a sufficient number of F-35 combat aircraft should already be available.



Schematic comparison with today's carriers

On July 25, 2007, the MOD officially announced that the girders should have a displacement of 65,000 tons with a length of 284 meters and a maximum width of 73 meters. There may be slight deviations from these data until the ships are completed. The hangar deck is located below the flight deck, where up to 22 aircraft can be stored and serviced. Most of the crew rooms are located under the hangar deck.


A special feature of the aircraft carriers are the divided superstructures, the so-called islands , as all carriers currently in service only have one island. While an island positioned as far forward on the ship as possible is advantageous for accommodating the navigating bridge, as is the case with the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle , an island positioned far back on the ship makes flight control easier, as is the case with the American Nimitz- class carriers . In order to make the best possible use of the advantages of both arrangements, it was decided for the Queen Elizabeth class for two islands, the front of which houses the navigating bridge and the rear the flight control. The sensors and radar systems are also distributed across the two islands.


For cost reasons, the MOD decided against a nuclear drive, which was discussed at the beginning of the development due to the size of the carrier. The MOD chose an electric drive and opted for the Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbine as the drive unit. Each carrier will have two gas turbines with an output of 36 MW each. The top speed is said to be 27 knots and the range at a speed of 18 knots is about 10,000 miles.


Like their predecessors, the new aircraft carriers will only receive a small amount of on-board armament, as the carriers will always operate in formation - in so-called carrier strike groups  - with destroyers , submarines (of the Astute class ) and frigates . The originally planned installation of Tomahawk cruise missiles will not be pursued in the final design by BAE Systems and Thales UK, but will be provided as a retrofit option. The same applies to equipment with the PAAMS Aster air defense system . Only three Phalanx CIWS cannons and four 30 mm guns for air defense at short range are installed. In addition, the carriers will be equipped with chaffs and decoys to deflect radar- and infrared-guided missiles.

Carrier Air Wing

Each carrier is designed for a maximum of 40 aircraft and helicopters. In October 2010, the government decided, as a rule, to carry only twelve F-35B fighter aircraft on board the porters. Only in an emergency would up to 36 machines be used. Just like the earlier Invincible class, the aircraft carriers are also prepared for amphibious operations , with the ability to use additional transport and combat helicopters such as Chinook , Commando Merlin , Wildcat or Apache . The exact composition of the "Tailored Air Group" (TAG), the former name of the "Carrier Air Wing" (CVW), is adapted to current requirements. A squadron with nine Merlin HM.2s is also permanently carried for maritime surveillance and transport purposes ; there are also four or five other Merlins, which are also equipped with an airspace surveillance radar kit.

This essentially results in three different packages for the embarked squadron: The basic package 'Maritime Force Protection' (Merlin) as standard plus alternatively the packages 'Carrier Strike' (Lightning II) or 'Littoral Maneuver' ( RAF -, RM - and Army - Helicopter).


The crew of each carrier is said to consist of 1450 people, of which about 700 belong to the aircraft personnel. The majority of the crew will be accommodated in six-bed cabins, each of which has its own sanitary facilities. This is a novelty for large British warships and is otherwise only found on the Daring- class destroyers .

home port

Like their predecessors, the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers are said to be based in Portsmouth , Hampshire . For this, however, extensive reconstruction work is necessary at the naval base. The entrance to the main basin must be widened by around 15 m, and the fairway must also be deepened . The quays also have to be adapted to the size of the ships. Due to these problems, a review was carried out at the end of 2006 to determine whether another base would be more suitable for the home of the aircraft carriers. In July 2007, however, it was announced that the carriers would definitely be stationed in Portsmouth.


HMS Queen Elizabeth in July 2017.
Surname Ship identification Keel laying Launch In service Whereabouts
HMS Queen Elizabeth R08 July 7, 2009 17th July 2014 7th December 2017 active
HMS Prince of Wales R09 May 26, 2011 December 21, 2017 December 10, 2019 active


  • Ministry of Defense (Ed.): The Royal Navy Handbook. Conway Maritime Press, London 2003, ISBN 0-85177-952-2 .

Web links

Commons : Queen Elizabeth Class  - Collection of Pictures, Videos, and Audio Files


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This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on July 17th, 2008 .