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Edited by Christian Lowe | Contact

British Sign Carrier Contract


The British government has signed contracts for the construction of two large aircraft carriers -- the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy. Given the designation CVF (for aircraft carrier-future) during their development, the new carriers will displace some 65,000 (metric) tons full load compared to approximately 100,000 (long) tons for the Nimitz class nuclear powered carriers.

The aircraft carriers will enable the Royal Navy to remain a major political-military force despite the recent reductions in the Navy’s ships, aircraft, and submarines.

The two British ships, to be named Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, are scheduled for completion in 2014 and 2016, respectively. The ships will operate conventional aircraft, which will make arrested landings and will launch with a ski-ramp (rather than catapults, as in U.S. carriers).

The carriers will replace three small, “Harrier carriers” of the Invincible class, ships displacing 19,500 tons full load that were completed in the early 1980s. Those ships could only operate Harrier-type Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing (VSTOL) aircraft and helicopters. Despite her small size and being able to only operate VSTOL aircraft, the Invincible and the slightly larger VSTOL carrier Hermes were key players in the British victory against Argentina in the Falklands in 1982. (The Hermes has since been transferred to the Indian Navy.)

The British carriers are expected to operate the U.S.-developed F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) as well as helicopters. The CVF design is unusual in having a “split” starboard-side island structure with two starboard, deck-edge elevators connecting the hangar and flight decks. The design provides for supporting 500 aircraft sorties over five days, consuming perhaps 800 metric tons of ordnance.

The ships will have gas turbine engines with electric motors providing a maximum speed of 25 knots (compared to 30+ knots for U.S. nuclear carriers). The manning goal for the carriers is some 600 plus up to 800 in embarked squadrons and command staff, i.e., a total of about 1,400 men and women.

The French Navy is planning to build a variant of CVF. That ship has a scheduled completion goal of 2015 when the one existing French carrier, the nuclear-propelled Charles de Gaulle, is scheduled for a refueling and major overhaul. It is unlikely that the French can meet that completion date.

-- Norman Polmar


Just implying a campign sphychology about the Falklands gbr/argantina war and polotics ?
Did it ever accur to anyone that the falklands are actualy called maldines! and have long before any brit decided to live there was common knowledge to argentinians belonged to them for 100's of years prior ????

Posted by: Bismark at August 12, 2008 06:31 PM

Ijust hope that the government funds the entire project with the accountants taking a back seat...then cost cutting and equipment shortages will be avoided.

Posted by: steve a at January 2, 2008 01:04 PM

Praise be, Britain back in the big carrier League. Ironic that the Labour Party is awarding the Contracts. After all, they were the folks who scrapped Ark Royal and Eagle, with the excuse that carriers were outdated. This in the 70s. As an old carrier man I only hope to live long enough to see them commissioned.

Posted by: Geoff at November 6, 2007 05:58 PM

Praise be, Britain back in the big carrier League. Ironic that the Labour Party is awarding the Contracts. After all, they were the folks who scrapped Ark Royal and Eagle, with the excuse that carriers were outdated. This in the 70s. As an old carrier man I only hope to live long enough to see them commissioned.

Posted by: Geoff at November 6, 2007 05:54 PM

Bigger Carriers!

Sweet! Britian will rule the seas again.

If we had a bigger stronger Royal Navy, Iran would never think about capturing our saliors.

Argentina...stay out of the Falklands or we will give you another taste of British Naval Power!

Posted by: Nelson Patrick at October 28, 2007 01:06 AM

My money is on the Brits to do it right. We've got to do our part and provide the F35 that does what it is supposed to do.

Posted by: Phil at August 16, 2007 09:48 AM

1942 the battle of midway was looming, the navy was down to three carriers. One badly damaged, but the british had one of their carriers in the area. The navy asked for help in the form of the british carrier to be part of the force facing the Japs. The Brits said no, they needed their carrier to defend Madagasar. {I guess those wanna be monkeys the Lemurs were getting frisky] The us navy never asked the brits for help from them in the pacfic again!

Posted by: davids at August 14, 2007 09:07 AM

i think its great that they are finally going to show the world that they can project more than a few measly harriers from the invisible class. but didnt they already have a nuclear powered carrier called the H.M.S. Excalibur?

Posted by: brad at August 13, 2007 11:07 PM

I cannot belive the comments with regard to the supposed incursion into Iranian waters by British Sailors and Marines. Any half decent strategist, general or admiral will tell his team to stand down and fight another day in the face of superior forces, gone are the days of heroes who decide to engage the enemy without thinking, then risking the life of his team.

Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win a war

Posted by: David Thumwood at August 13, 2007 04:03 PM

I was in TAO school when the Falkland "war" got going. I remember thinking at the time that I bet they wish they still had the "Ark Royal" in action. I actually had the honor to arrest aboard the "Ark" in an F-4J during joint ops before it went back to the UK to be decommissioned and scrapped. A pity, it was a beautiful ship. Obsolete of course, but the replacements did not have near its capability. Nice to see the RN getting a couple of big decks back.

Posted by: Dave at August 13, 2007 12:34 AM

The reason the US nuke carriers are being retired is because they're wearing out, are at the end of their service lives, and their technology is nearing obsolescence. For the RN to buy one of those ships would be like needing a new car, being able to afford a new minivan, and instead springing for a '69 Chevy Suburban with 350,000 miles on it.

Posted by: George Skinner at August 12, 2007 10:06 PM

Some comments on previous messages. Re: purchasing a n ex US nuke CVN, that was discussed and turned down, the rits specificly wanted a fuel burner. Nukes are only cost effective above a 90,000T x 30 Knt limit. I believe it was the USN that came up with the figures to support that. 65,000T x 25 Knt simply wouldn't be cost effective with Nuke fuel, containment costs, and disposal of spent fuel until oil is well over a hundred bucks US a barrel. Biofuel production kicks in as economic not far below that level.

Also re: Marines in iran. SOP, when surrounded by well armed gunboats while armed with LMGs and sidearms while in a rubber ducky boat... Surrunder, Survive, and wait for either escape or rescue. No point dying by trying to take out gunboats with sidearms.

Posted by: Kiwi at August 11, 2007 03:00 AM

Good luck to the Brits. Carriers are a hugh investment and a larger responsibility. I know they have had carriers (kinda sorta) but these ships will be much more capable and expensive. The USA can use all the help they can get. Good luck, fair winds and following sea. Amen.

Posted by: matt at August 10, 2007 10:39 PM

The British sailors and marines who surrendered to the Iranians were an embarrassment to us as well , they were on a medium sized ship in a reasonable defensive position . I would have given the Iranians a fight !!!

Posted by: the doc at August 10, 2007 06:24 PM

I have had the unfortunate? experience of being station in Britain twice (a great time was had by all!!!). I think they would be miles ahead rebuilding their ship-building capabilities along the Clyde (Remember the days they could build the QE I and II!!!). Internal workers, paying taxes on their wages to the British government, along with a myriad of other benefits). Hope they decide to develop and build it within their borders! It wuld be totally stupid to do otherwise.

Posted by: NGLO at August 10, 2007 10:27 AM

Pathetic comparison some of you have made here when expressing the success of the current British carriers in the Falklands War to the capability and improvements of the new carriers. First of all those old carriers were fighting a military with A4 aircraft with a very, very limited number of Excocet missiles. Even with these obsolete weapons, they managed to inflict damage on the Royal Navy. So the Falklands is not really a true litmust test! I believe Sadams Migs with their anti ship missiles would have been a better test. I definitively donĀ“t believe those carriers would heve fared well against a better armed second rate power.

As for the new carriers, they are nothing less than a sitting duck in the water! The next second rate power they face will have faster missile launching speed boats, aircraft with better missiles, water mines and subs. We are talking about a country like Iran! So my advise to the Brits is to buy the same nuclear carrier class and size the US has. Forget about the ridiculous Jump ramp and use the systems that has worked well for the US in all Wars! Forget about building new shipyards for these carriers and use the ones in France as suggested by another writer or the ones in the US. You the Brits will save money this way. Last is to place your carriers in Blue water and not inside the Gulf as planned by the US. Why? Because they are sitting dukcs inside the Gulf.

Posted by: Miguel Salles at August 10, 2007 09:10 AM

Oh!, I forgot to add that I really like the idea of new Brit carriers. We'll take all the help we can get, as I'm supposing you will. How about a 300 ship Brit Navy? We've got all sorts of mothballed iron, some of which are still usefull, and capable of upgrades. G]

Posted by: Gerry at August 10, 2007 02:17 AM

Ok, I'm from a long time ago. 1959, 48 hours on HMS Hermes, long before any skiramp, which is not to deplore the same, or some other. We were Ameican USAF, from Libya (Wheelus ABase). Sea Vixens and Scimitars (Have the film of them both and of a support aircraft I cannot remember: large for a carrier, contrarotating props, free takeoffs, radar bulge in its belly. Jeebus!, Hermes was 505 feet long!!!
We later did war games against HMS Victoria, of which we had some general idea of position. F-100s out of Wheelus (Libya). I believe we had a visual on that big mass of metal at 80 miles, dipped to 50 feet and ran a skip bomb run on her.
Not that we'd been successful, since we never knew the results.
After, I crossed the forward deck at about 400 knots/100 feet/'Reheat' lit at the appropriate moment. At least the crew got a show, and the officers a scare. Or maybe they'd already counted me 'dead'. I should mention here that I'd already seen the integrated visual depictation on a huge video screen, of the battle space while on the Hermes. Which I'd never seen before anywhere in '59 (or even much later).
Let's face it, I was impressed. Attack fighters would be downed, and airborne missile launchers would survive - that was the short term lesson.
Much of that time is now quite different. Or so I'd think of observations nearly 50 years ago by a now superatenuated fighter pilot. (and I have the video), Heh!

Posted by: gerry at August 10, 2007 02:07 AM

Wouldn't it be better for the RN to get an older US carrier? One of the old nukes we're going to retire in a few years would give the RN a big leg up, and they already have nuke subs.

Posted by: Larry Altersitz at August 10, 2007 01:47 AM

If those two small ski jump british carriers are in good shape, perhaps we should consider buying them? Would be good platforms for the new F-35 coming on line and enough Osphreys to get a marine brigade on shore quickly. If the price is right it may be a good way to go. Hell add one old battleship for fire support, a aegis cruiser for air support and one nuke sub to keep things quiet below and you would have your self one pretty impresive strike force. Do the same thing with the other british carrier and you would have two rather cheap invasion forces. In fact use the battle ships to carry extra fuel for the strike force.

Posted by: davids at August 9, 2007 03:58 PM

A few points are worth revisiting from your article- as I understand it the CVF design allows for STOVL at launch, with the room for conversion to cat and trap later. When commisioned, the plan is not to have arrested landings. Just as well really, as the intended aircraft, is either a jump jet or a cat and trap bird, not both.

The slower speed is simply because it takes a LOT of hp for every extra knot, and in their wisdom they have decided that double the shaft horse power for five extra knots doesn't make sense. We'll see in the long run if that's right, but it's not a completely unreasonable economy.

And finally regarding the build- there are quite a few her in the UK with concerns over the build strategy- the yard earmarked for completing these vessels has a fine record in refits, but hasn't built a ship, any ship, in well over a generation. For my part I'd rather the french, who have the infrastructure and skilled workforce in place, built the whole hull. This would reduce the risk, and allow us to getter a better hullshape too (current design is compromised to allow block build in seperate yards). I know lots of wailing agnashing of teeth would ensue from a foreign built hull, but frankly we're wasting cash setting up a facility like that in the UK. It's not as if we'll be crancking them out by the dozen, so once built the whole capability has to be shut down again. If we're going to be in a common european market we might as well make the most of it.

Posted by: meeware at August 8, 2007 01:39 PM

IRT sortie generation. The limitation driving the stated goal of 500 sorties over five days may well be crew availability vice hardware limitations. Quite simply: you run out of rested aircrew. A USN exercise in about FY2001 found the limiting factor in generating a surge of strike warfare sorties to be the avaiability of rested aircrew, vice shipboard limitations or acft readiness.

Posted by: cgramaglia at August 8, 2007 01:30 PM

A complement of 1400 for a carrier that size sounds grossly inadequate for damage control. A typo, I hope?

Posted by: Fred at August 8, 2007 01:08 PM

The could certainly use a bigger one - or two...

Posted by: Ole Eichhorn at August 8, 2007 10:24 AM

500 hundered sorties in 5 days! In the Tonkin Gulf that would have been a Safety Stand-down.
Considering that modern ship and acft design is all about long life-cycles and low maintenance, what are these people going to do with all that free time? Also, why only 5 days? Do they truely expect any war, short of full nuke exchange, to be over in a mere 5 days?

Posted by: Tumbleweeds at August 8, 2007 09:33 AM

My contacts in the Defense world tell me that a Big One is coming. No definite time table. Expectations: about five years.

Once the work is well underway wartime exigencies can speed up launch.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 8, 2007 09:10 AM

How about some consistency in units - couldn't they convert to a standard weight ?

Posted by: junk at August 8, 2007 09:09 AM

but why would they build slower carriers than the US nuke carriers?

Posted by: jimf at August 8, 2007 08:39 AM

This is very poorly written. Who is going to build these ships? Who is the other partyto this contract I'm supposedly reading about? Yeesh.

I am not sure who these ships are supposed to help Britain fight, but I guess you never know what will happen in 2016. I'm sure these ships will be world-class, as the British have a very strong military tradition. Amusing they are still honoring lucky monarchs and all that silliness.

Wright: yeah, those sailors and Marines taken to Iran were a total embarrassment. But some of them actually behaved correctly and bravely. It's a PR game, and you only notice the jackasses because that's what Iran wanted and media tends to play along. That said, there didn't have to be any jackasses.

Posted by: Dustin at August 8, 2007 08:29 AM

500 sorties in 5 days? Thats insane! Is that a misprint???

Posted by: Solomon at August 8, 2007 08:02 AM

A ship is just iron. You need a good and honorable crew as well as strong leadership to make it work, and from what I have seen of the British Navy of late, there appears little reason for optimism.

Posted by: Wright at August 8, 2007 07:47 AM

Glad to see the brits increasing their firepower, after all it's a crazy world we all live in......You know?

Posted by: Johnny at August 8, 2007 07:30 AM

Glad to see the brits increasing their firepower, after all it's a crazy world we all live in......You know?

Posted by: Johnny at August 8, 2007 07:28 AM

I travel to the UK at least once a year with American Sea Cadets and have been hearing about the "Bird Farms" of the future. I have lot of mates from the RN and know how proud they are of their Navy. I along with the rest of the American cousins applaud the decision of awarding the contracts. Bravo Zulu to the Royal Navy, All The Best

Posted by: sr chief wiener at August 8, 2007 06:51 AM

These are long overdue and whether we have the capability to build them - with the french - remains to be seen. We're getting rid of our Harrier Carriers too quickly leaving a gap in our capabilities.
The RN were also the first navy to use armoured flight decks, hurricane bows (to keep he hangar desck dry), and most importantly the angle flight deck for simultaneous launch and retrieval.
I hope we have a few more suprises under our belts when we launch these two.

Posted by: Matt at August 8, 2007 06:18 AM

Hope they have a big rumlocker!

Posted by: Frank Hudman at August 8, 2007 05:38 AM

The british have always been innovative in carrier design. Most of the changes in carrier design have come from them. These include the arresting gear, steam powered catapult, angled deck and the ski jump ramp. It will be interesting to see what new innovative features their carrier will have.

Posted by: Jeff at August 8, 2007 05:15 AM

65,000 tons, F35's, Royal Navy standards, that could be interesting. The Brits build excellent ships, it will be interesting to see if they can build a carrier, again, that is world class. I bet they will.

Posted by: Ziv at August 7, 2007 10:31 PM

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