The United States isn’t the only nation with a massive new aircraft carrier setting out to sea, as this week saw the launch of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s largest warship ever built, and its only aircraft carrier since retiring the much smaller HMS Illustrious in 2014.
The British Navy calls its new ship, named after the nation’s 91-year-old monarch, “four acres of sovereign territory, deployable across the globe to serve the United Kingdom.”
With a 65,000 ton displacement and overall length of 920 feet, the Queen Elizabeth still falls far short of matching America’s Nimitz or new Ford Class super carriers in terms of dimension, which each displace in the neighborhood of 100,000 tons and boast lengths of 1,092 feet.
That isn’t to say the Queen’s namesake is a ship to be trifled with: it is, after all, more than 200 feet longer and nearly three times the size of its predecessor, the Illustrious, which proved capable in combat during the 1982 Falklands conflict.
England’s new carrier will also boast a significant upgrade in its abilities as a means of force projection. Although the Royal Navy isn’t scheduled to receive its first batch of combat operational F-35Bs until 2023 (at the earliest), it won’t be left fielding the dated Sea Harriers of its predecessor. Instead, the Queen Elizabeth is expected to deploy with a squadron of 24 U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs, thanks to an international agreement established in 2016. The terms of the agreement suggest that, sometime after 2023, we can expect to see British F-35s on American Nimitz and Ford class carriers as well.
Although the new carrier is expected to carry 24 advanced American fighters, it’s actually capable of managing more than fifty, along with as many as nine combat helicopters (likely Merlin anti-submarine choppers) and four more for airborne early warning operations. If tasked with a littoral role, rather than open sea force projection, the Queen can easily carry a mix of Chinook heavy transports, Apache gunships, and Lynx Wildcat multi-role helicopters.
The vessel was built across six different shipyards and required more than 11,000 workers to be completed, and comes equipped with the latest in military technology, as well as some 5,000 miles of optical fiber cable for its high-speed data network. It is powered by two 48,000 horsepower gas turbines and four diesel generators; two rated at 15,000 horsepower and two at 12,000, unlike the nuclear power plants found in America’s carriers.
Relying on traditional fuel sources will force the Queen Elizabeth to return to port for refueling much more frequently than its American allies, but are rumored to be able to push the massive ship to speeds in excess of 29 miles per hour. For comparison, the New Ford Class carriers, despite being more than 50 percent heavier, are said to reach maximum speeds higher than 35 miles per hour, thanks to their more powerful (and more expensive) nuclear reactors.
Perhaps the most important difference between the Queen Elizabeth and its ally ships out of America are the captains’ quarters: the Queen’s Captain will be forced to sleep in a single bed, while the USS Gerald Ford’s captain sleeps in comparative luxury in a double.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth, in terms of length and displacement, is perhaps a better comparison to China’s Liaoning or Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov, currently the sole operational carriers for their respective nations. These two vessels, both based on a Soviet platform and technically sister ships, are similar in size to the queen (60,000-65,000 ton displacement) though slightly longer in the bow.
However, these older carriers do not boast the Queen’s aircraft catapult, which allows for much shorter take off distances and frees up more room on the deck to store extra jets. The Queen also houses significantly advanced technology when compared to its competitors, and unlike the arguably unreliable Russian Admiral Kuznetsov, it won’t need to be accompanied by an oceangoing tug boat on overseas cruises to help it out when it breaks down, like the Russian ship did earlier this year.
Feature image courtesy of the UK Ministry of Defence
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