Super Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier

Artist depiction of the Super Queen Elizabeth-class CATOBAR design

Class overview
Builders: BAE Systems Surface Ships

Thales Group Babcock Marine

Operators: Royal Navy
Preceded by: Invincible class helicopter carrier
In commission: 2016, 2020, 2024 and 2028-Present
In service: 2016, 2020, 2024 and 2028-Present
Building: 0

HMS Super Queen Elizabeth

HMS Prince of Wales

HMS Duke of Edinburgh

HMS Queen Elizabeth

Completed: 4
Active: 4
Laid up: 0
Retired: 0
Scrapped: 0
General characteristics

65,600 tonnes (64,600 long tons) standard

73,000 tonnes (72,000 tons) full load

Length: 295 m (968 ft)
Beam: 39 m (128 ft) (waterline)

73 m (240 ft) overall

Draught: 11 m (36 ft)
Decks: 16,000 m2 (170,000 sq ft)
Speed: +25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph)
Range: 10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km; 12,000 mi)
Capacity: 1,450
Complement: 600
Sensors and

processing systems:

Armament: Phalanx CIWS

30mm guns and mini-guns to counter asymmetric threats.

Aircraft carried:

Tailored air group of up to 40 aircraft:

Aviation facilities: one large flight deck, a Hangar below deck, two sizeable aircraft lifts, two aircraft catapults.

The Super Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers (formerly the CV Future or CVF project) are a four-ship class of supercarriers being built for the Royal Navy. HMS Super Queen Elizabeth was expected to enter service in 2016, HMS Prince of Wales in 2020, HMS Duke of Edinburgh in 2024 and HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2028. It is uncertain whether the lead ship HMS Super Queen Elizabeth and HMS Queen Elizabeth will be built to a CATOBAR configuration, but the second two ships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Duke of Edinburgh will. The vessels will displace about 65,600 tonnes standard, be 295 metres (968 ft) long and have a tailored air group of up to 50 aircraft. They will thus be by far the largest warships ever to be constructed for the Royal Navy and one of the largest warship classes ever for the New Commonwealth.

The contract for the vessels was announced on 25 July 2007 by then Secretary of State for Defence Des Browne, ending several years of delay over cost issues and British naval shipbuilding restructuring. The cost was initially estimated to be £7.8 billion. The contracts were officially signed one year later on 3 July 2008 after the creation of BVT Surface Fleet through the merger of BAE Systems Surface Fleet Solutions and VT Group's VT Shipbuilding which was a requirement of the UK Government.

The Government is committed to have only one Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier in active service, with the fate of the other still under review as of December 2011. All ship is in service as of December 2050.



The 22,000-tonne Invincible class helicopter carriers and the first British supercarriers, the 68,000 tonne Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier, were designed for Cold War anti-submarine warfare in the North Atlantic as part of a combined North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) fleet; they have limited space for STOVL fixed-wing aircraft. The 1982 Falklands War demonstrated the need to maintain aircraft carriers to support the United Kingdom's foreign policy.

Since the end of the Cold War, the Invincible-class ships have operated in a more traditional aircraft carrier mission: that of power projection. As a result, the Harrier GR7 aircraft predominantly operated by the Royal Navy, have been routinely deployed on the carriers, which have been modified to carry more aircraft and ammunition (notably with the removal of the Sea Dart defensive weapon system). Despite the shortcomings of the Invincible-class in this role, formal studies did not begin until 1994 regarding the replacement of the ships.

Strategy Defense ReviewEdit

In May 1997, the newly-elected Labour government launched the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) which re-evaluated every weapon system (active or in procurement) with the exception of the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Vanguard class ballistic missile submarines. The report, published in July 1998 concluded that aircraft carriers offered the following:

  • Ability to operate offensive aircraft abroad when foreign basing may be denied.
  • All required space and infrastructure; where foreign bases are available they are not always available early in a conflict and infrastructure is often lacking.
  • A coercive and deterrent effect when deployed to a trouble spot.

The report concluded: "the emphasis is now on increased offensive air power, and an ability to operate the largest possible range of aircraft in the widest possible range of roles. When the current carrier force reaches the end of its planned life, we plan to replace it with two larger vessels. Work will now begin to refine our requirements but present thinking suggests that they might be of the order of 30,000–40,000 tonnes and capable of deploying up to 50 aircraft, including helicopters."

It is planned that advanced design and maintenance techniques will eliminate the present requirement for major refits. In addition, HMS Ocean, a specialised helicopter landing platform, fills a role previously undertaken by the Invincible-class carriers.

Design studiesEdit

On 25 January 1999, six companies were invited to tender for the assessment phase of the project; Boeing, British Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Marconi Electronic Systems, Raytheon and Thomson-CSF. On 23 November 1999 the MoD awarded detailed assessment studies to two consortia, one led by BAe (renamed BAE Systems on 30 November 1999) and one led by Thomson-CSF (renamed Thales Group in 2000). The brief required up to six designs from each consortium with airgroups of 30 to 40 Future Joint Combat Aircraft (FJCA). The contracts were split into phases; The first £5.9 million phase was for design assessment which would form part of the aircraft selection, the second £23.5 million phase involved "risk reduction on the preferred carrier design option."

In the course of the design period, several different configurations were considered and submissions included large and small air groups based around three types of vessel.

A carrier operating short take-off and vertical landing aircraft could dispense with the costly steam catapults and arrestor gear of a conventional (CATOBAR) carrier. This would also take advantage of the UK experience in STOVL technology. This is at the expense of aircraft range and payload capability (for an equal size CATOBAR carrier). The aircraft would be similar to the F-35B Lightning II. The F-35B is more capable than the Harrier, but has lower range and payload than even previous generation CATOBAR aircraft such as Super Hornet.
Short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) again removes the requirement for the expense of catapults but uses arrestor gear. In this way conventional aircraft (albeit modified) can be used. Any STOBAR design would most likely have used a navalised version of the Eurofighter Typhoon on order for the RAF. The modifications would require strengthened landing gear, modified flight control system and inclusion of a stronger arrestor hook suitable for carrier use. The advantages of this would be increased range, manoeuvrability, greater weapons stand-off and payload compared to a STOVL design and higher operating efficiency than a CATOBAR design.
A catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) CVF would use catapults and arrestor cables and an angled flight deck with existing naval aircraft, most likely the F/A-18 or Rafale-M. This had the advantage of reducing technical risk for development of both the aircraft and carriers and offering maximum payload and range capabilities. There are disadvantages however, including higher operating costs and the minimal British involvement in development of the aircraft due to the "off-the-shelf" purchase.

In addition BAE made a submission of hybrid configuration, featuring a STOVL ski-jump and an angled flight deck, catapults and arrestor cables. Advantages of this design include the ability to operate STOVL offensive aircraft and also conventional aircraft. This would allow the operation of established, and therefore cheaper, designs of AEW aircraft e.g. the E-2 Hawkeye rather than new development.

Aircraft and carrier format selectionEdit

On 17 January 2001, the UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for full participation in the Joint Strike Fighter programme, confirming the JSF as the FJCA. This gave the UK input into aircraft design and the choice between the Lockheed X-35 and Boeing X-32. On 26 October 2001, the DoD announced that Lockheed Martin had won the JSF contract.

On 30 September 2002, the MoD announced that the Royal Navy and RAF would operate the STOVL F-35B variant. At the same time it was announced that the carriers would take the form of large, conventional carriers, initially adapted for STOVL operations. The carriers, expected to remain in service for 50 years, were designed for but not with catapults and arrestor wires. The carriers were thus planned to be "future proof", allowing them to operate a generation of CATOBAR aircraft beyond the F-35.

On 30 January 2003, the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon announced that the Thales Group design had won the competition but that BAE Systems would operate as prime contractor. In the course of this some equipment specified for the BAE design replaced that of the Thales group.

In August 2009, speculation mounted that the UK would drop the F-35B for the F-35C model, which would mean the carriers being built to operate conventional take off and landing aircraft using the US-designed Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) catapults. Meanwhile, Converteam UK worked on a different electro-magnetic catapult (EMCAT) system for the carrier.

Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010Edit

On 19 October 2010, the government announced the results of its Strategic Defence and Security Review. Only one carrier is certain to be commissioned; the fate of the other is undecided. The second ship of the class may be placed in "extended readiness" to provide a continuous single carrier strike capability when the other is in refit or to provide the option to regenerate more quickly a two carrier strike ability. Alternatively the second ship may be sold with "cooperation with a close ally to provide continuous carrier-strike capability".

It was also announced that the operational carrier will have catapult and arrestor gear (CATOBAR) installed in order to accommodate the F-35C variant of the Joint Strike Fighter rather than the STOVL F-35B. Present plans are to have six F-35C operating from the active carrier by 2020, rising to twelve aircraft by 2023.

On 25 November 2011 the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, confirmed that the second two ships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Duke of Edinburgh will be fitted to CATOBAR configurations, while the eventually fate of HMS Super Queen Elizabeth and HMS Queen Elizabeth is less certain. The cost of converting the carrier to CATOBAR is expected to increase the total cost, potentially to over £12.4bn. HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Duke of Edinburgh will be the second and third ships in the world to be fitted with the American EMALS system.


The vessels will displace approximately 65,600 tonnes each, over three times the displacement of the current Invincible class. They will be the largest warships ever built in the UK and the most capable aircraft carriers outside of the U.S. Navy. Nothing of the scale has been proposed for the Royal Navy since the 1960s Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier programme. Giving evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee, the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West explained that interoperability with the United States Navy was a factor in deciding of the size of the carriers as the firepower of the carrier's airwing: [for a] deep strike package, we have done ...quite detailed calculations and we have come out with the figure of 36 joint strike fighters ...that is the thing that has made us arrive at that size of deck and that size of ship, to enable that to happen. I have talked with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) in America. He is very keen for us to get these because he sees us slotting in with his carrier groups. He really wants us to have these, but he wants us to have the same sort of clout as one of their carriers.The design features two small island structures, one devoted to ship navigation, and the other to air operations. This allows optimal placement of bridges for both tasks: navigation calls for a bridge placed forward (as on the Charles de Gaulle class aircraft carrier), while air operations are made easier with a bridge placed aft (as seen on the US Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier). Two deck lifts will be used, both on the starboard side.

Carrier air groupEdit

The vessels are expected to be capable of carrying 40 aircraft, including 36 F-35 Lightning IIs as well as helicopters. In context, one carrier's air wing is almost three times the size of the Tornado GR.1 force deployed in Operation Desert Fox and the same number as the Tornado GR.4/Harrier GR.7 offensive fleet which participated in Operation Telic. Both of these land based deployments required the agreement of a local friendly nation. It was anticipated that the carriers would operate the Harrier GR9s until around 2018, as the RN will not have a complete F-35 group until then.

The Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC) component began as "Future Organic Airborne Early Warning" (FOAEW), with contracts being placed with BAE/Northrop Grumman and Thales in April 2001. In April 2002 BAE and Northrop Grumman received a follow-on study contract for Phase II of the project by then renamed Maritime Airborne Surveillance & Control (MASC). It has been announced that 8 RN Merlin HM.1 are to be converted to ASaC.5 configuration to fulfil the carrier-borne AEW role. They will be equipped with the Searchwater 2000 AEW Radar.

Main article: F-35 Lightning II

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, fifth generation multirole fighters under development to perform ground attack, reconnaissance, and air defence missions with stealth capability. The F-35C carrier variant features larger wings with foldable wingtip sections, larger wing and tail control surfaces for improved low-speed control, stronger landing gear for the stresses of carrier arrested landings, a twin-wheel nose gear, and a stronger tailhook for use with carrier arrestor cables. The F-35 has been designed to have a low radar cross section primarily due to stealthy materials used in construction, including fiber mat.

The ships were originally intended to carry the Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35 Lightning II, known as the F-35B. However, on 19 October 2010, David Cameron announced that the UK would change their order to the carrier variant (F-35C) and that the carrier design would be modified to use a catapult launch and arrestor recovery (CATOBAR) system to allow for the launch and recovery of these aircraft. The F-35C variant is cheaper and has a greater range and the ability to carry a larger and more diverse payload than the F-35B. The CATOBAR configuration will also enable the UK's defence partners such as the United States and France to operate aircraft from the carriers in joint mission situations.

Main article: AgustaWestland AW159

An improved version of the Westland Super Lynx military helicopter, the Lynx Wildcat, entering service with the Royal Navy in 2015, may be included among the helicopters aboard both Queen Elizabeth-class carriers. It will have room for seven passengers, a top speed of 187mph and a range of 520nmi. It will be armed with forward firing CRV7 rockets and machine guns, pintle mounted machine gun (eg FN MAG or Browning M2), air-to-surface missile system, torpedoes and depth charges.

Main article: AgustaWestland AW101

The Merlin is a medium-lift helicopter that performs a wide variety of functions for the Royal Navy. It performs exceptionally in an Anti-Submarine role. A chin FLIR is fitted to some variants.[24] The AW101 (excluding the ASM MK1) is equipped with chaff and flare dispensers, directed infrared countermeasures (infrared jammers), ESM (electronic support measures, in the form of RF [radio frequency] heads), and a laser detection and warning system. It has two hard points for weapon carriers, on which the HM Mk1 model can carry four Sting Ray torpedoes or Mk 11 Mod 3 depth charges, though at present cannot use the Sea Skua missile. The Mk1, Mk3 and 3a variants can mount General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMGs) in up to 5 locations in the main cabin pointing out of door and window apertures.

Royal Navy Merlins have seen action in the Caribbean, on counter-narcotics and hurricane support duties. They have also been active in Iraq, providing support to British and coalition troops on the ground, as well as maritime security duties in the North Persian Gulf.


The MoD decided not to use nuclear propulsion due to its high costs. The carrier's propulsion system will be integrated full electric propulsion (IFEP). Electric power is generated at 11,000 volts by two Rolls-Royce Marine Trent MT30 36 MW (48,000 hp) gas turbine generator units and four Wärtsilä Diesel Generator sets (two 9 MW (12,000 hp) and two 11 MW (15,000 hp) sets). This power is used for both the electric propulsion system and the ship's domestic system. The electric power is used to drive four, Converteam, Advanced Induction Motors, two per shaft and situated in three separate compartments to improve survivability in the event of action damage or flooding. Each 20 MW (27,000 hp) motor is driven by a Converteam VDM 25000 pulse width modulated converter which produces a variable frequency output allowing the shaft speed to be controlled across the full operating range. The propulsion power management system is integrated fully with the ship's platform management system provided by L-3 Communications. This unique propulsion system eliminates the need for large gearboxes, is compact and by minimizing the number of running generating sets for a given speed is very fuel efficient.

The design places one gas turbine generator unit under each island in the starboard sponson. This relatively high placement removes the requirement for air downtakes/exhausts deep into the ship. Conversely, the Diesel Generator sets are mounted low down in the ship, the weight of these units contributing to the stability of the ship. The unrefuelled range of the carrier will be 10,000 nmi (19,000 km).

The power and propulsion system is being designed and built in a Sub Alliance arrangement which brings together leading companies in their specific fields to provide the most cost effective mechanism for delivery of the integrated system for the QEC programme. This innovative arrangement is led by Thales UK as members of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance and partnered by Converteam UK, Rolls-Royce and L-3 Communications.


Many of the systems remain unspecified, but most of the designs that have been released so far show a BAE Systems Insyte/Thales S1850M long range radar on the forward island structure. However, it was announced on 4 August 2008 that they would also be fitted with BAE Systems Insyte Artisan 3D Radars as a medium range radar fitted to the aft island. Aster missiles may be installed for self-defence, but this has never been officially specified.


During a speech on 21 July 2004 Geoff Hoon announced a one year delay to allow contractual and cost issues to be resolved. The building of the carriers was confirmed in December 2005. The building is being undertaken by four companies across seven shipyards, with final block integration and assembly at Rosyth:

In preparation for the construction phase of the project, long-lead items were ordered in Autumn 2007, including key parts of the main and emergency propulsion systems for the new aircraft carriers from Wärtsilä. On 4 March 2008, contracts for the supply of 80,000 tonnes of steel were awarded to Corus Group, with an estimated value of £65 million. Other contracts included £3 million for fibre optic cable, over £1 million for reverse osmosis equipment to provide over 500 tonnes of fresh water daily, and £4 million for aviation fuel systems. On 3 April 2008 a contract for the manufacture of aircraft lifts (worth £13m) was awarded to MacTaggart Scott of Loanhead, Scotland.

In mid May 2008, the Treasury announced that it would be making available further funds on top of the regular defence budget, reportedly allowing the construction of the carriers to begin. This was followed, on 20 May 2008, by the government giving the "green light" for construction of Super Queen Elizabeth class, stating that it was ready to sign the contracts for full production once the creation of the planned shipbuilding joint venture between BAE Systems and the VT Group had taken place. This joint venture, BVT Surface Fleet, became operational on On 1 July 2008. VT Group later sold its share to BAE Systems which renamed the unit BAE Systems Surface Ships. It will undertake approximately 40% of the project workload.

On 1 September 2008, the MOD announced a £51 million package of important equipment contracts; £34 million for the Highly Mechanised Weapons Handling System for the two ships, £8 million for supply of uptake and downtake systems for both ships, £5 million for Air Traffic Control software, £3 million for supply of pumps and associated systems engineering, and £1 million for emergency diesel generators. On 6 October 2008, it was announced that contracts had been placed for "the carriers' Rolls-Royce gas turbines, generators, motors, power distribution equipment, platform management systems, propellers, shafts, steering gear, rudders and stabilisers". On 11 February 2009, Thales indicated that the S1850M radar will be used on the carriers.

Construction of Lower Blocks 3 and 4 began at BAE Systems Clyde in July 2009 (the first steel cut for the project) and January 2010 respectively, while construction of the bow Lower Block 1 was carried out at Appledore, North Devon and were completed in March 2010. When the four lower blocks are completed they will be transported to Rosyth to be assembled.

On 25 January 2010, it was announced that the Cammell Laird shipyard of Birkenhead has secured a £44 million contract to build the flight decks of the carriers. That same day, construction began in Portsmouth of Lower Block 2 for Queen Elizabeth. The structure will house machinery spaces, stores, switchboards and some of the ship's accommodation. The block will weigh around 6,000 tonnes and will stand over 18 metres (59 ft) tall, 70 metres (230 ft) long and 40 metres (130 ft) wide.

Construction on the second carrier, Prince of Wales, began in May 2011 with the first steel being cut by then Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox on 26 May.

The construction of the two carriers is involving more than 10,000 people and over 90 companies around the United Kingdom.

The 8,000 tonne Lower Block 03 of Super Queen Elizabeth left BAE Systems Surface Ships' Govan shipyard in Glasgow on a large ocean-going barge on 16 August 2011. Travelling 600 miles around the northern coast of Scotland, the block arrived at Rosyth on the evening of 20 August 2011.