Work continues on the UK Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier


Workers at BAE Systems in Portsmouth have begun work on the second major hull section of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the United Kingdom’s new aircraft carrier. A steel cutting ceremony at the company’s facility this week marked the official start of production on the stern section, referred to as Lower Block 05.

Weighing over 1000 tonnes on completion, this section will house switchboards, air treatment units and the vessel’s steering gear, as well as some accommodation areas. “This latest achievement in the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier programme follows the start of production on the forward section of the hull, Lower Block 02, which began in February of last year,” the company says in a publicity statement.

HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will displace about 65 600 tonnes at full load and will almost certainly be seen in South African waters in due course. The ships will measure 284 metres in length and will be capable of carrying up to 40 aircraft, including the Lockheed Martin F35 Lightning II. According to current planning, in terms of recent defence budget cuts, the Queen Elizabeth will only enter service in 2020 and the Prince of Wales is expected to be kept in a state of “extended readiness” after completion.

The two supercarriers, described as the “biggest and most powerful surface warships ever constructed in the UK” will replace three ageing and much-less-capable Invincible-class light aircraft carriers in terms of a decision announced in the nation’s 1998 Strategic Defence Review. The wikipedia notes that from six contractors, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) selected Thales and BAE Systems in late 1999 to compete for the final contract. In September 2002 the MoD announced that the Royal Navy and RAF would operate the short-take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) “B” variant of the F-35. The carriers would take the form of large, conventional carriers initially configured for STOVL operations. In January 2003 the MoD announced that the Thales design had won the competition but that BAE Systems would operate as prime contractor. The two companies are now part of a “carrier alliance” with the MoD and other companies.

The contract for the vessels was announced in July 2007, ending what was by then several years of delay over cost issues and British naval shipbuilding restructuring. Last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review has recast the Queen Elizabeth as a standard CATOBAR (catapult take-off and arrested landing) in order to operate the conventional carrier “C” variant of the F-35 instead of the STOVL variant in light of cost overruns and development difficulties with the latter.

Steven Carroll, Queen Elizabeth-class project director at BAE Systems’ Surface Ships division, added the cutting of steel on the second section of the hull here in Portsmouth in less than 12 months highlights the tremendous progress we are making on the programme to deliver the nation’s flagships. The sheer scale of the hull as it takes shape in six shipyards across the country is a reminder that this is truly a once in a generation engineering project and we are all extremely proud to be a part of it.”

The Hampshire area is hub of activity on the Queen Elizabeth Class programme. BAE Systems workers at the Naval Base will also build island structures for the two ships and the pole mast, whilst integration and testing of the ships’ complex mission system is underway at the Company’s Maritime Integration and Support Centre on Portsdown Hill. Yet another team of BAE Systems engineers is testing the advanced communications systems for the ships. Elsewhere in the region, Southampton-based Kempsafe Limited has contracts to supply galley and laundry equipment on the vessels, and Portsmouth-based Selex Communications is involved in the design of the Identification Friend or Foe system.

This picture is replicated across the UK, with work underway at six shipyards employing 8000 people and thousands more across the supply chain.

The last Royal Navy warship named Queen Elizabeth was in service from 1915 to 1948 and was the name-ship of the Queen Elizabeth-class of Dreadnought battleships. The name was then reportedly allocated to the CVA-01-class aircraft carrier cancelled by in terms of the 1966 Defence White Paper. The last HMS Prince of Wales was a King George V-class battleship commissioned in May 1941 and sunk by Japanese bombers that December. In her brief career she had helped sink the German battleship Bismarck and carried Prime Minister Winston Churchill to a conference with US President Franklin Roosevelt.