What’s next for HMS Queen Elizabeth?

After the impressive entry into Portsmouth on 16th August, HMS Queen Elizabeth is now safely tied up alongside Princess Royal Jetty. She may look close to being the complete article, but there is a lot of work to be done before she can be added to the Royal Navy’s order of battle.

Despite being more symbolic than of military significance at this stage, QE’s entry into Portsmouth was a major public relations success for the RN. Rather out of the media spotlight for some time, the senior service has been overshadowed by the army-centric campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The formal naming ceremony for her younger sister, HMS Prince of Wales will be held on 8th September in Rosyth. Just before Christmas, it is expected HMS QE will commission in Portsmouth in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen. This date has been brought forward from the original plan to commission in 2018. These milestone events will help keep media focus on the RN and the carrier project.

Theresa May on HMS Queen Elizabeth

The visit of the Prime Minister to QE on her arrival in Portsmouth was a significant endorsement of the aircraft carriers that will eventually be a strategic national asset. Theresa May said, “Britain can be proud of this ship and what it represents”.

QE is still owned by her builders and has only completed the first part of her test and commissioning phase. The first phase of trials focussing on engines, steering, and auxiliary machinery was apparently completed very successfully. By coming to Portsmouth sooner than originally planned, her ship’s company can now get some well-deserved summer leave and a tricky re-entry into Rosyth is avoided. She will remain in Portsmouth for some time, probably around 8 weeks while planned engineering work is completed and issues encountered during trials are addressed. In the Autumn she will then sail for part 2 trials with a greater focus on mission systems, radars, communications, and electronics.

At this very early stage, QE is still more ship than warship, she has not yet even been fitted with her self-defence decoys, close in weapons systems (CIWS) and has no armament besides light machine guns.

For her arrival in Portsmouth, she embarked 5 Merlin helicopters but this was primarily for display and demonstration purposes.

Even when QE is a commissioned warship there will be a long process to fully train the ship’s company (pass Operational Sea Training), conduct flight trials and work up the air group before she can declare initial operating capability in 2020. Full operating capability (Carrier Strike) will not be achieved until 2023.

Next year 820 Naval Air Squadron will be the first operational squadron to embark aboard QE. Their Merlin Mk2s will practice their primary role of anti-submarine warfare, protecting the carrier from the underwater threat. In the last quarter of 2018 the first British F-35B Lightning will land on QE off the eastern coast of the United States. An 8-week flight testing period will be another landmark on the long road to restoring UK carrier capability.

 

In our next article, we will look more deeply at some of the concerns raised by critics arguing against the carrier project.

 

 

HMS Queen Elizabeth – are aircraft carriers too expensive?
HMS Queen Elizabeth comes home - in pictures