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 Navys 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