The HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) aircraft carrier heads the new, two-strong Queen Elizabeth-class group which will be joined by the HMS Prince of Wales (R09) as the British Royal Navy transitions from its Cold War-era design and doctrine to a force designed for smaller-scale, limited conflicts. The types represent a whole new generation of carriers for one of the most storied navies in the world and are expected to be commissioned for service in 2016 and 2018 respectively. Unlike modern American carriers, the Queen Elizabeth-class will be conventionally powered (as opposed to nuclear) and feature an inline flight deck (as opposed to an extra angled receiving deck) as well as two island superstructures (as opposed to one).
The power of the aircraft carrier in a modern conflict was driven home for the British during the Falklands War (1982) against Argentina. The war proved a British victory and saw the heavy utilization of the revolutionary Hawker Siddeley "Harrier" Vertical / Short Take-Off and Landing (V/STOL) aircraft which were launched with regularity against Argentine targets and in Combat Air Patrols (CAPs). The war lasted a little over two months and cost the British effort 255 killed to the Argentine's losses of 649 (as well as 11,300 prisoners). Air superiority played a major role and the aircraft carrier, used as a mobile support station, dutifully played its part.
In May of 1997, the newly-formed British government began its Strategic Defence Review" which sought to evaluate the current - and future - state of British military strength and capabilities. It was deemed that its current, Cold War-era class of aircraft carriers was not up to the task of the expected near-future conflicts that would focus more on "contained" conflicts (as they became in Afghanistan and Iraq). This proved a far cry with the proposed wide-ranging world warfare expected in the Cold War years. In 1999, design studies were commissioned for a new breed of aircraft carrier which ultimately became the Queen Elizabeth-class.
The class was originally intended to resemble modern American carriers in their physical design complete with an angled receiving deck and starboard island superstructure. In May of2012, authorities finally elected to follow the British Cold War approach and feature an inline flight deck which coincided with the decision to purchase the new American Lockheed F-35B Lightning II Short Take-Off and Vertical-Landing (STOVL) stealth strike fighter - essentially the new Harrier of the modern age. To facilitate in its short take-off quality, the Queen Elizabeth-class will feature a "ski-type" ramp at its bow (offset to the portside) to provide greater lift across a shorter runaway distance for the fighter. The ramp is designed by BAe Systems and Lockheed Martin and supplies an increased payload to outgoing aircraft of up to 20% - though at the cost of greater stresses to the undercarriage. The ramp measures 200 feet long and 20 feet high with an incline of 12.5 degrees - the longest such ramp ever fitted to a naval vessel. The flight deck will support all of the latest British helicopters for the purpose of at-sea resupply, special forces support and special mission requirements (such as Anti-Submarine Warfare - ASW). The adoption of two island superstructures means that all flight activities will be governed through a dedicated island and crew at rear - the ship operations managed from the forward island. Both superstructures will be set to the starboard side of centerline. The flight deck will be serviced by a pair of hangar elevators - one located between the two islands and the other aft of the rear island to keep the flight deck as clear of traffic as possible.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth was ordered on May 20th, 2008 with the charge given to primary contractor BAe Systems Surface Ships and supported by Thales Group and Babcock Marine. Her keel was laid down on July 7th, 2009 with an expected launch-to-sea date sometime in 2017. Commissioning is estimated for 2018. Her homeport will be HMNB Portsmouth in the south-central portion of the United Kingdom with unfettered access to the critical English Channel lanes residing between southern England and northern France. Her assigned fighting motto is "Semper Eadem" translating from the Latin to "Always the Same". As of 2013, the vessel remains under construction. She is only the second Royal Navy vessel to carry the name of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first being the HMS Queen Elizabeth battleship of 1913. The CVA-01 was to have been an HMS Queen Elizabeth-named aircraft carrier but this endeavor fell to naught.
As built, HMS Queen Elizabeth will displace at 64,600 tons (long) and feature a running length of 932 feet, a beam of 240 feet and a draught of 36 feet. Her crew complement will be in the range of 600 personnel. The island superstructures and aircraft lifts will all be positioned along starboard with the central and portside of the surface deck reserved for launching and retrieving both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft (small UAV systems support can be assumed). Below the flight deck will be machinery, living quarters, munitions houses, storerooms, fuel stores and operations. Management of supplies will be facilitated through electrical transportation to speed aircraft resupply during a time of war.
As of this writing, it is assumed that the vessel will be supporting the F-35B Lightning II strike fighters (barring any government budget cuts) and Lynx Wildcat utility/ASW, Boeing Chinook tandem twin-rotor transport, AgustaWestlant (Boeing) Apache attack and AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin transport/ASW helicopters. The carrier has been designed to support a full complement of 40 aircraft while its fully-modern and technologically advanced systems and processing stations will ensure optimal efficiency when launching and retrieving aircraft as speed (critical under war conditions).
The HMS Queen Elizabeth will be a conventionally-powered surface vessel with propulsion made possible by 2 x Rolls-Royce Marine Trent MT30 gas turbines of 48,000 horsepower each mated to 2 x Wartsila diesel generators of 15,000 horsepower each and 2 x Warsila diesel generators of 12,000 horsepower each. Maximum speed will be 25 knots with an operational range of approximately 11,800 miles.
While her air wing will, for all intents and purposes, represent her primary "armament", the warship will also be outfitted with base defensive-minded systems to protect her from incoming aerial threats. This will include 2 x 20mm Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWSs) and support for Aster surface-to-air missiles through launcher installations. There are plans to include several 30mm autocannon mounts as well as close service miniguns as the threat from high-speed light suicide craft remains a possibility from irregular enemy forces. Additionally, the defensive systems will protect against both aircraft can cruise missiles and further defense will be strengthened by any accompanying fleet vessels on station with the carrier.