Carrier Vessel Future

In this area, i take a look specifically at the controversity of the Carrier Vessel Future programme. Taking pride in being correct, i will warn each and every reader that i'm totally in favor of carrier-borne air power. I firmly believe in the concepts and in the strategy assumptions, supported by decades of war experience from 1918 onwards, that make of the Aircraft Carrier the capital ship and the main asset for excellence. 
This does not mean, however, that the data that follows is full of hype or, worse still, modified at all to put the CVF under better light. Even who opposes the carrier programme can look at the information here and stand assured that i've provided the data with all the honesty possible. 

I will keep this page updated as the CVF programme progresses. Have a good read.

The future of UK's power projection from the sea: CVF 

Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers

The main role of the aircraft carrier is, before even considering the pure military aspect, to give the government choices and not dead ends.
This is not "admiral's propaganda", but a truth that cannot be denied.

The ship can be sent wherever required, maintaining independence without the need for a ‘host’ nation or diplomatic negotiations that might or might not be succesful, which are certain to have a cost and which invariably end up delaying operations for as long as reaching an agreement takes.
Aircrafts embarked on an aircraft carrier ensure protection for the fleet against enemy attacks, and gives ample possibilities to influence events ashore, since over 70% of the world's population lives within a range of 300 miles inland from the cost.

The threat provided by big carriers, first unleashed in the era of conventional international wars, is still of value in times of asymmetric warfare and maverick terrorist groups, as a carrier-led task group allows the Royal Navy to pursue policies of countering terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass destruction. An aircraft carrier is the ultimate form of "conventional deterrence": the US Navy training exercises outside Korea and Taiwan being an obvious example of modern gunboat diplomacy capable to send a very strong message whenever and wherever needed. "We care".

The ability to deploy a big carrier with a clutch of fast jets gives the UK the capability to project power abroad indipendently, making the nation capable to protect autonomously its own interests anywhere, anytime.
The big truth that no one can deny is that naval aviation can operate from land bases when these are available, and operate off carriers when it is necessary. Land based air power is and will always be constrained by bases, which can't be moved around, are vulnerable to enemy attack and might not be available where and when they are required. 

An aircraft carrier with a proper airgroup also ensures a valuable seat for the UK at the planning table of any future coalition operations, rather than a passive presence. Be it an american-led operation or a european/NATO operation, CVF has the potential to ensure that the UK has a top position in the leaders.

In order to maximise the potential of the big carriers, the Navy recognizes that it has to face up to something of a conundrum.  Planners have to think in a much wider context, as few missions would be purely maritime affairs – the emphasis would be on ‘power projection’, or taking the firepower to the opponent’s own backyard, which will invariably involve ground forces as well most of the time. This is why the carriers are being procured as Strike carriers, and never have and never will be called Fleet carriers: their role, first and foremost, is to enable and support power projection abroad, delivering air cover and firepower to a ground force ashore. 

A secondary role as LPH was always envisaged for the CVF, but the assumption originally was that this would have been in support of HMS Ocean and, later on, of her replacement vessel. 
With the Navy now destined to lose HMS Ocean (current planned retirement date is 2022, but we never know these days, plans can change fast and the official expected OSD might mean nothing tomorrow!) without a replacement, and the QE class being low on availability of planes to embark, the Royal Navy will have to make of its two carriers two “everything-doing” sea bases.
The closest example of what I mean is the LHA of the US Marines: comparable to the CVF even for size, it is a mix of aircraft carrier and LPH. The CVF will work in the exact same way. 


Displacement metric tons): 64,500 tonnes full load (start of service life. Note that this was the expected weight of a STOVL configured carrier. CATOBAR carrier will probably be heavier)
Limiting 75,000 tonnes at end of service life (after two re-ballastings)
Dimensions:  284 metres (931 feet) length overall;
                          73 metres (239 feet) max width at flightdeck;
                          263.5 metres (865 feet) pp;
                          39 metres beam (water line) (128 feet)
                          Depth of main hull: 30 metres
                          Draft: 11 metres  (36 feet) max
                          Air draft - 47 metres masthead height (including sensors) - Max air draft has been notoriously influenced by the need of fitting under the bridge on the way to Rosyth!
                          Overall height: 56 metres
Speed: 26.3 knots maximum; 25 knots maximum sustained
Endurance: 45 days endurance
                       8,000-10,000 nautical miles at 15 knots
Ammunition, aviation fuel and stores for at least 5 days of aviation operations, including first day surge, for a total of 396 high intensity strike missions. Total of 8,600 tonnes of Dieso and Avcat
Replenishment typically every 7 days.
It's planned that a dedicated fleet tanker (MARS project) for CVF support will carry sufficient fuel (and some supplies) for a further 28 days (or 45) of on task operations
Engines: Integrated Full Electric Propulsion (IFEP) with Combined Diesel-Electric and Gas Turbine Propulsion (CODLAG)
2 x 36MW Rolls Royce MT30 gas turbines with 35MW alternators;
2 x Wärtsilä 16V38 EnviroEngines diesels with 11.6MW generators;
2 x MW Wärtsilä 12V38 EnviroEngines diesels with 8.7MW generators;
Total main generating capacity: 108MW;
Emergency Wärtsilä 200 2MW diesel generator set.
2 propeller shafts, each with 2 x Alstom 15-phase electric induction motors (rated at 20MW each at 150 rpm); 80MW (107,000 hp) total power consumption, output - c.95,000 shp
Complement: Ship crew 682 (RN figure) or 679 (Aircraft Carrier Alliance figure)
                           Typical carrier strike configured crew reported in 1450 total, including airgroup;
                           Flag and command staff will also often be embarked (up to 120 men for JFHQ);
                           Accommodations for 1650 (possibly up to 1800 according to other sources)
Aviation Facilities: 270 meters of Short Take Off lane.
After switch to CATOBAR operations, at least one of the carriers will have 2 x 90 (or 103) meters long Electromagnetic Catapults with Jet Blast Deflectors for aviation operations.
Arrestor wires will also be fitted to the angled deck.
Hangar size: 163 x 29 x 7.1 to 9 metres (535 x 95 x 23-29 feet)
Armament: Latest illustrations show: 3 x Raytheon Phalanx 1B CIWS; 4 x MSI DS30B 30mm remotely operated light guns
Torpedoes: None
Countermeasures and Decoys: EW and passive ("soft kill") countermeasures outfit such as SeaGnat DLH or Barricade;
Anti-Torpedo defence system Type 2170 (SLQ-25A)
Combat data systems: BAE Systems; CMS-1; Tactical Data Links 11, 14, 22 and JTIDS 16.
Radars: Long Range Air/Surface Search and IFF: BAE Systems Insyte S1850M;
                Air Search Radar: Thales Type 1046
                Medium Range Radar: BAE Systems Insyte Artisan;
                Target Designation & Fire Control: None
                Navigation: contract not yet placed
                TACAN: contract not yet placed
                PAR Precision Approach Radar: SELEX Galileo SPN 720(V)5

Air Group: Maximum 40.
Strike carrier role:
30 (max 36 replacing the Merlins) Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighters; 4 x Sea King ASaC.7 or Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control MASC aircraft / helicopters / UAV's; up to 6 x  Merlin HM.1 ASW helicopters.
A flight of 1/2 helicopters for COD/VERTREP and SAR roles are expected to be a constant part of the air group, despite the lack of official plans about this.
Also able to operate a wide range of other tri-service aircraft and helicopters including Sea King, Chinook, Apache WAH-64, and UAVs
Armour: Passive protection features. Details are classified but may include small amounts of armour in strategic areas. 

Crew: 679 core crew members, increasing to up to 1500 when the full airwing is embarked for major ops. This is actually 6 men less than the core crew of the Invincible-class HMS Ark Royal, thanks to the progress of technology and features such as the highly automated weapons handling system. It is often heard on many blogs that “the UK can’t man the CVFs”, “we can’t afford it” and other idiocies of this kind. Probably people tends to connect the huge size of the ships automatically to the need for a huge crew, US Nimitz style, with 6000 men on board. This is most evidently misinformation.
An Invincible-class aircraft carrier will also embark up to 366 Fleet Air Arm (more correctly RAF, if things go in the way that RAF top brass want) personnel depending on the size of the airwing. It is evident that a larger airwing means more personnel to be embarked at once on a CVF, but this is not a valid argument to bash the CVFs project. In particular because the RAF would want its squadrons, planes and crews even if the CVF wasn’t there, and thus it is not the ship that dictates how many men are in service. 
Indicatively, a Sea Harrier FA2 squadron before disbandment had 7 planes and 135 personnel, for roughly 20 men for each plane. With an equal manning figure, a 36-strong F35 airwing would require 720 men. Since 682 + 720 gives 1402, the 1450 figure is likely to encompass a whole 36 F35 and 4 MASC airwing. 
However these figures are now "old" since they were calculated on F35B ops: the catapults and arresting wires are likely to require a slight increase in ship core crew, and the F35C might also require a slight increase in aircrew figures.

Crew facilities: there will be four galleys on board and four large dining areas which will be manned by 67 catering staff. The largest dining room has the capacity to serve 960 crew members in one hour.
Each ship will have an eight bed medical suite, operating theatre and dental surgery, which will be managed by 11 medical staff. These facilities can also be augmented to suit the requirements of every individual mission.
Crew facilities on board both ships will include a cinema and fitness suites in order to provide crew members, some of whom will be away from home for months at a time, a good range of recreational activities. Crew members will have personal access to e-mail and the internet (when satellite communications equipment is not being used for operational purposes!). 

It has been said that up to 800 air group personnel between pilots, engineers, deck crew and others might be required for wartime operations with 36 F35C on board. Wasn't it for the Higly Automated Weapons Handling system, at least one hundred more would be required. Generally, a CVF with full airwing on board is given a crew figure of 1450. 
In December 2005, it was announced that the CVF would have 1800 berths on board, and while some of these might have been sacrificed in the meanwhile (current figure often is reported as 1650 accomodations being provided at built), it means that HMS Queen Elizabeth, without going into "overload" condition could host at least up to 200 more personnel, be it Royal Marines, specialists for humanitarian operations, Joint Forces Head Quarters team (this indicated in around 120 men) or civilians evacuated from a war zone. Space for further berths should be available, up to the original 1800 figure and perhaps past it.

The CVF will thus have no problem embarking consistent numbers of Royal Marines in LPH role, especially if the embarked forces was embarked under "austere" conditions. The standard of accomodations on the CVF is very high, as on the Type 45: Junior Rates are accomodated in 6-berths cabins, with Senior Rates in 2-berths ones, while officers can have shared or even individual cabins. 

The accomodations have been called "luxurious" compared to HMS Invincible's ones.

The CVF's capabilities. The current CVF design features two huge (approx 20 x 30 metres) starboard deck edge lifts of 70-tonnes (154,000 lbs) capacity, each is able to accommodate two JCA-size aircraft or heavy lift helicopters, included the Chinook, Ch53K and MV22 Osprey.  By comparison, the lifts on the Invincible-class carriers are just 16.75m x 9.75m (55ft x 32 ft), with a mere 18.1 tonnes (40,000 lbs) maximum capacity. 

As we now know, at least one of the CVFs will now be a CATOBAR configured carrier, but for interest i will recall the STOVL design that was agreed in 2003. The CVF design selected had two side-by-side JBD positions with "hold-back" restraints about 150 metres back from the ski-jump style bow.  This allowed pairs of aircraft to be launched in quick succession.  The take-off run was considered sufficient for F-35B's to be launched at maximum take-off weight (MTOW) given reasonable (30kts) actual wind over deck (WOD), while the configuration also allows for very rapid launch events.  But in addition the extended centre-line flight deck configuration allowed for occasional very long (over 200m) take-off runs from an unrestrained starting point right aft (like Harrier's on the current Invincible's) for heavily loaded aircraft in low WOD conditions. Some changes in this configuration may occur with the reduction in platform size. Two pods were foreseen for vertical F35B landings, but these would have been, more often than not, useles, since the F35B, as it turned out, would have needed Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing procedure to return to the ship without dropping its load of expensive weaponry into the sea.

The 2003 design for the STOVL CVF, with two Jet Blast Deflectors side by side and two spots for Vertical JCA landings. 
The effective presence of the JBDs on HMS Queen Elizabeth later came into question when it became clear that 150 meters of take-off run for the F35B might have been not enough. In late 2003, this factor and the need to realize savings led to the design being simplified with a single take-off lane, with a single JBD mounted roughly in front of the aft island. 
Apparently, even this single JBD was in the end sacrificed to try and keep costs down, despite this having consequences on safety and time between aircraft launches, but i have no confirmation of this. 

Using SRVL F-35B aircraft would approach the carrier from astern at about 60 knots indicated air speed, 35 knots relative assuming 25 knots wind over deck (the maximum speed of a CVF will be 25 knots, so 25kts WOD is achievable even in dead calm) on a steep 5-6 degree glide path.  Touch down would be about 150 feet from the stern with a stopping distance of 300 to 400 feet depending on conditions (wet flight deck, pitching ships etc).  That would leave around 300 feet of flight deck for margin or even "bolters". This, evidently, would have a serious impact on the feasibility of simultaneous launch and recovery of F35B airplanes from the CVF, and arguably, even if the switch to F35C hadn't happened, an angled-deck Queen Elizabeth to fit SRVL would have had to be considered.

The hangar is 163 metres long and 29 metres wide - the total hanger area is 4,700 sq m.  Hanger height is stated as being 7.1 metres, increasing in the 'hard hat' area to over 9 metres, with a crane hook clearance of 7.5 metres.
The design allows for accommodating at least 20 JSF's (the F-35B is the worst case due to its non-folding wings), or up to 45 (!) Sea King sized helicopters [and thus Merlins as long as they fold], in three “bays” separated by fire curtains.
There are large aviation support spaces fore and aft of the hangar, and along its port side.  Two rows of compartments will surround the hangar, for ease of access and as extra protection, and modular (containerised) storage space will have the capacity of 24 London buses. Budget permitting, pre-packaged, containerised support facilities will be developed that can be quickly loaded and "plugged in to" these pre-allocated spaces on CVF to provide support facilities for non-core aircraft and helicopters, such as army Apaches and, in future, drones.

Hangar height is such that practically any kind of helicopter and airplane used on aircraft carriers worldwide can be hosted on board. In the Hard Hat area of the hangar, even Merlin and MV22 unfolded can be parked. Graphis from the excellent
The philosophy for determining the height of the hangar was that the hangar had to be high enough to park and maintain JCA over its entire area. The hangar must also be high enough to stow all other JFAG aircraft, though limiting those operations that require considerable overhead height to “high hat” areas where there is a 9.5m clearance. Secondary role aircraft (such as Apache AH) were not allowed to unduly drive hangar design directly, but the Apache AH1 comfortably fits all along the hangar, without height problems. This gives a hangar 6.5m high from deck to deck head with a minimum clear height of 6.1m allowing for structure and fittings such as lighting, and is high enough to accommodate all JFAG modularised stowage boxes. The hangar extends over two decks with a gallery deck between the hangar and flight deck in both variants. The high hat areas extend into the gallery deck.
Flight deck area is about 15,700 sq m (nearly 4 acres),  flight deck length overall is 277 metres, STOVL flight deck breadth is 69 metres (excluding catwalks, minor sponsons, but including lifts), 6 operating spots, maximum available STO runway length is 274m, enough to allow a F35B to comfortably take off even without Sky Jump, since STO run for the JSF is indicated by Lockheed Martin in roughly 230 meters. 

This graphic shows the CVF in STOVL (top) configuration and CATOBAR (bottom) mode. The latter is the one the UK is now going to get following switch to the F35C. Excluding the fighter jet preparing to launch and those on the lifts, 17 parked F35 can be noticed, along with two folded Merlins and a folded Hawkeye near the aft island. The middle graphic is of great interest since it allows a direct comparison with the Invincible's class hangar (outlined in blue, filled squares are the lifts) and the CVF's own hangar, outlined in red. Image from  
 The CVF will be a very advanced and revolutionary aircraft carrier. The Twin Islands arrangement is most evident, but the real advancement over previous vessels is in the integrated electronics. To keep crew numbers down and enable a very ambitious sortie generation rate, the CVF has been equipped with advanced systems such as the Aircraft Support Chain Management Information System (ASCMIS), which is allows the digital transmissions and sharing of all the engineering and logistics information to the relevant users across the ship. This will allow, for example, deck crew to share weapon requirements to the officers under deck, who will use the Highly Mechanised Weapon Handling System (HMWHS) to send up on deck the required weaponry in the shortest possible time. The HMWHS provides mechanical handling facilities for moving palletised munitions around the deep magazine and weapon preparation areas, and a series of weapons lifts to connect the magazines, hangar, weapons preparation area, and flight deck. The HMWHS is the first maritime application of shore-based commercial warehousing processes using automated systems with all-electric control, adapted for safe transport and stowage of munitions in a warship environment. Munitions can be delivered, in bulk, to the point of use at rates that could not be achieved manually, while minimising the manpower requirement in what is traditionally a labour-intensive process, thus delivering reduced through-life cost, as well as a saving in onboard living accommodation requirements. 

One of the 56 rail-mounted, automated, remotely-controlled Moles used to move pallets of All-Up Round ammunitions on board of CVF

At the heart of the system are 56 so-called ‘moles’, which do the lifting and carrying of the palletised munitions in the magazine. The HMWHS system consists of a network of two versions of these prime movers, which traverse forward and aft (longitudinal, version one) or port and starboard (athwartships, version two), each able to lift and move a payload to locations within its predefined area of travel. The moles can transfer payloads between each other, so the payloads can be located anywhere within the magazine.The two mole versions are different shapes to enable lifting and lowering of the palletised munitions in the correct orientation, onto the set stowage and transfer positions, and are equipped with electric traverse and lift drives, allowing accurate positional control within the magazine. A number of lifts provide interconnection between the magazines and the hangar, weapons preparation area, and flight deck, and a mechanism enables the mole to access the lift platform without needing to disengage and re-engage the pinion from the rack.  The magazines are unmanned, with all the moles controlled from a central location, so personnel are required only where munitions are being prepared for storage or use.
Other aviation related items that will be fitted to CVF include: suitable communication systems; the Joint Tactical Information and Distribution System (JTIDS) supporting NATO Link 16; other data links (NATO 11, 22 and 14); a precision carrier  approach radar; a tactical air navigation system (TACAN); all-weather approach system landing aids (CTL), possibly a new semi-automatic carrier controlled landing system; electro-luminescent panels for deck orientation; a deck lighting system compatible with night vision goggles; an operating limits instrumentation system (OLIS); a deck approach projector site (DAPS), a stabilised glide slope indicator (SGSI); and a Horizon Approach Path Indicator (HAPI) system. The CVF design will also introduce a mass of new or improved systems to the Royal Navy, including the Aircraft Support Chain Management Information System (ASCMIS), an aircraft Prognostics & Health Management (PHM) system,  a new Low Observability (LO) Diagnostic System, an improved Flight Deck Management System (FDMS), new type undercarriage restraining devices for the quick and safe anchoring of aircrafts to the deck and electromagnetic deck locks. The aircraft Prognostics & Health Management (PHM) is expected to greatly ease the mainteinance of the embarked aircraft and improve availability: it combines environmental and component-performance data to predict the health status of the airframe and of single components, calculate likely time-to-failure and remaining life of the item.  

The design of the ship and all these systems are targeted at ensuring that the CVF can sustain an ambitious schedule of strike operations when required: 

- First day surge with 108/110 strike missions. F35C is expected to be able to fly three missions for day, or even four.
- Operations would normally continue with the planes flying 2 missions a day, for a total of 396 missions on a 5 days period of high-intensity strike operations. 

Compare this schedule of operations with Libya's current air policing operation, to realize that this is a very demanding attack scenario, something for a truly high level warfighting operation. A more common schedule of operations is indicated in: 

-108 strike missions in the first 24 hours, as Surge attack
- 72 strike missions for day for 10 days following first day surge 
- 36 strike missions a day for further 20 days

The CVF will carry enough fuel and weaponry and stores to sustain both these schedules of operations, which means that a carrier will be able to operate either in extreme high-intensity attack scenarios and in longer stabilization operations (example being current Libya operation). Effective endurance in mission obviously depends on how fast weaponry and aviation fuel is used. 

A dedicate Royal Fleet Auxiliary replenisher ship is envisaged, and this will follow CVF around in mission, carrying fuel (and stores) for at least 28 further days of on-task operation.  
Following the decisions of the SDSR 2010, one (or both) the CVF vessels will now be fitted with catapults and arresting gear: a plan for the conversion is expected to be finalized in late 2012. It appears to me likely that only one of the two vessels (at least initially) will be kitted out as CATOBAR carrier, because of the difficulty in finding the money needed for the conversion. If my hypothesis proves true, the one vessel which will kitted out as full carrier will be HMS Prince of Wales. I say this because: 
-Catapults, even ordered in 2012, are unlikely to be available before 2015 at the earliest, and waiting for them is likely to delay the CVF programme, pushing costs up. 
-Money is currently unavailable, and it appears improbable that the MOD can front-load costs by converting the first vessel, HMS Queen Elizabeth: it appears easier to fit the expense for conversion into later budgets, with proper planning. 
Currently, there's no certainty about what kind of catapult will be used. 

The JCA saga: F35B, F35C, and the Sea Typhoon idea
The UK committed to the F35 programme as solution for its Joint Combat Aircraft requirement in January 2001, but a real choice of the variant to purchase was never taken arguably until 2010 with the final (?) picking of the F35C. The original focus on the F35B as solution for the Joint Combat Aircraft was originated by several different considerations: in the 1990s, satisfied by the performances of the Harriers, the RN had started thinking about their replacement by focusing on a new STOVL platform. A Sea Typhoon idea is as old as 1996, when the first studies on it were advanced by BAe, but the MOD showed little interest in the idea, advancing doubts about the visibility of the pilot during landings because of the canard configuration, and in 2001, unsurprisingly, the Seaphoon did not manage to budge the UK away from the Joint Strike Fighter path, which promised (totally unrealistic) superfighters at wonder prices of 20 to 40 million dollars each.

When the UK joined the F35 programme, the F35C variant was expected to be the most expensive one, but as we know this has, in time, proven false as the development of the F35B has encountered problem after problem, getting more and more expensive as each trouble was faced: 
-The engine cost grew much more than planned 
-Weapons bays had to be redesigned and shortened by 14 inches
-other elements of the fuselage had to be redesigned and countless weight-saving measures had to be adopted to keep the plane capable to operate in the way it was required to. 

"The decision to be made between the STOVL and CV variants will be a difficult one," said Wing Cdr Green said RAF Wing Cdr Mark Green of the Joint Combat Aircraft integrated project team (JCA IPT). "They are being viewed as equal competitors. Our final decision will be informed by the results of the current concept demonstration phase, study work to examine the UK's future offensive air capability, and a range of 'softer' issues such as our concept of operations."  
"It's a very complex decision-making matrix, and the arguments for and against are very tight," said one senior maritime aviator. "It goes without saying that the CV variant gives us access to more target sets, will have a longer range and a greater 'bring back' capability, but it will undoubtedly come at greater cost. I suspect it will ultimately be a balance of investment decision."

But by mid-2002 it was being reported that the higher echelons of the RAF -  the service that will 'own' the aircraft and thus a very significant "player" in the decision process - was firmly inclined towards STOVL.  Officially this was in part because of the greater flexibility of deployment, but also because of the lower training penalty needed to keep those predominantly RAF-manned JCA squadrons carrier-qualified. 

Already back then, however, this view of things was challenged by more than one expert: it was observed that high-fidelity simulators, the JSF's advanced flight-control system, and modern auto-land facilities would make carrier landings far less challenging than hitherto assumed by the RAF. It also worth pointing out that back in the 1960's and 1970's pilots were safely making their first 'trap' on RN fleet carriers with only minimal shore based training as specialist training carriers had disappeared in the 1950's and suitable simulators simply didn't then exist, and even so the 1965 Defence White Paper envisaged RAF F-4 Phantom squadrons operating from RN carriers if required. 
The carriers were killed off soon after that, however. 
In the same time, new calculations of the cost of fitting out CVF for catapult operations were made, and the difference in cost was proven far smaller than it had been said. The "CV party" was already gaining voice and visibility. 
Entering the increasingly heated and closely balanced debate, UK industry now voiced its support for selecting the STOVL variant of the F-35 for JCA, however. Rolls-Royce, as developer and supplier of the STOVL variant's shaft-driven lift fan, stood to gain far greater industrial benefit from a decision in favour of STOVL, which would in turn bring UK political weight to bear on the US Department of Defense's commitment to the USMC STOVL off-take.
The F35B back then was expected to hit ISD in 2012, besides, and this was seen as an important factor.

Ultimately, MoD and industry sources back then quietly suggested that the RAF was actually anxious that JCA should not threaten Eurofighter Tranche 3, nor dilute its aspirations for the Future Offensive Air System (FOAS), the deep-penetration strike plane that should have replaced the Tornado. The RAF was worried that the long range (800nm) F-35C would be regarded by both the MOD and Treasury as having sufficient capabilities to fulfil the FOAS manned role, and thus funding for a separate, dedicated, non-naval fast jet aircraft specifically procured for FOAS would be cut.  Selecting the shorter range STOVL F-35B for JCA avoided this problem, so that the RAF was happy when the then Defence Procurement Minister, Lord Bach, finally announced on 30 September 2002 the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was the preferred JCA solution. The RN did not complain, hoping to get the airwing it needed. 
Overall, it felt like a victory for pretty much everyone back then, even if the decision had been hinging on the wider balance of investment judgments. Returning to catapult-launch and arrested-recovery operations with the JSF CV variant would have cost more, but pound for pound represented the most cost-effective way of getting bombs on target, even back then.  The chosen STOVL option would deliver a more modest capability, somewhat below that of a CV solution, but was thought to cost less overall. And by selecting an "adaptive" design for CVF, the door had not been completely closed on the possibility of CTOL operations in the future. 
Things would, in time, prove this vision of things wrong. In 2004, weight problems affecting the F35B were pushing costs up, pushing ISD date away and requiring a drop in performances to reduce the weight of the airframe. In particular, the RAF and RN were concerned by the reduction in the sizes of the weapons bay: the F35B can only carry internally bombs in the 1000 lbs range of weight. This is perfect for most tasks and for the US Marines, that will use their F35Bs in a Tactical role, with more capable jets from the US Navy carriers doing the heavy lifting when necessary. But the UK will have only one JCA fleet, which will have to be capable to carry out strategic strikes as well. The reduction in capability was a hard blow. Suggestions were that the UK would switch its 150 F35B buy for a smaller batch of 80 or 85 F35C. 
In July 2004 cuts were made to the UK's strike jet fleet requirement, and voices started to be heard directly from the RAF advocating a switch from the STOVL F-35B to the CTOL F-35C variant in order to avoid having an excessive proportion of less capable (at least in terms of range and payload) STOVL aircraft in the shrunken force.
Ironically, in June 2005 the FOAS, that the choice of the F35B was meant to save, was killed off as unaffordable, unsurprisingly for everyone but the RAF. The Junior service was shaken by this event deeply, and rumors started to circle that now the RAF wished for a split buy of F35B to devote to the carriers and a good 60 or 65 F35A to use as a dedicate, separate Tornado replacement.
In this period, there was even a return of the Sea Typhoon idea, as the RR-GE F136 alternative engine was threatened with cancellation and the UK was denied sovereignity access on the software of its F35s. In special hearings before the US Senate Armed Services Committee on 14 March 2006, British, Australian and Italian officials expressed their unhappiness about the lack of consultation in U.S. handling of the JSF program and technology transfer delays.  Minister for Defence Procurement Lord Drayson issued a stark warning that unless Britain's technology access needs are met, it will quit the JSF program. The British government's stance appeared uncompromising. Either provide the U.K. with "operational sovereignty" on its Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, or watch London pull out.

In this period, it was said that a STOBAR Typhoon would cost roughly 25% more than a normally-kitted Typhoon fighter. I've no exact figure for the Typhoon cost, but most sources put it at around 67 million pounds for each airframe. With the 2005, very rough cost estimate, we can assume Sea Typhoon would cost 83 or even 84 million pounds each. Do not take this figure as a Truth with the capital T, because it is more of an hypothesis than anything else, even if based on figures released by official sources. 
It is worth pointing out that latest Eurofighter assesments of the complexity of a conversion of the plane for STOBAR use are apparently a lot more confident than the ones dated 2005. This might be a good sign, due to major experience of the airframe's capabilities after the thousands hours flown by the main user air forces, but it might also be, at least in part, hype deriving from Eurofighter's obvious desire of impressing the Indian officers to get lucrative contracts. 
Even at 84 million pounds (which now is apparently seen as a "pessimistic" cost estimate), the Sea Typhoon might be quite a lot cheaper than F35C, which risks costing over 90 million pounds according to reports putting its cost at 145 million dollars. 
Costs of military jet fighters is always a tricky subject, so nothing can be considered a bible. Take every figure with prudence. 
However, a STOBAR approach is  going to require no catapults, and the Sky Jump costs less than any catapult system. On the bad side, while CATOBAR is able to operate with pretty much anything from STOVL airplanes to US Navy and French Navy platforms, a STOBAR ship could only take STOBAR and STOVL airplanes. Currently, no major UK ally (unless we consider India) does operate or plan to operate STOBAR platforms, making it evident that we are talking of a serious limitation.

Overall, things were "solved", with the US agreeing [at least officially] at giving access to the source codes to the UK. The F136 alternate engine, instead got its government funding killed this year (2011), with GE and RR declaring that they want to prosecute development with their own money, at least for now. Interestingly, the british government has not made much noise at all about it this time, despite the combined blow of problems/reduced orders of F35B and killed funding for F136 being quite heavy on Rolls Royce.

Back then, anyway, the F35B remained the "preferred choice". Significantly, however, BAe in 2006 was awarded the contract to ensure the carrier was compatible with the F35 airplane. Without focusing on a particular variant between B and C. 
In the same year, official US sources put the expected UK buy at 138 aircrafts spread over the period 2011 - 2027, even though the MOD never officially abandoned the 150 figure. 
Listening to american sources, the plan was that the RAF would acquire 80 F35B to use in 4 carrier capable squadrons of 12 (even though 9 was also hypothized) planes each, plus an OCU of 14 airframes. 
The RAF was to get also two more squadrons as FOAS replacement. Each squadron would have a strenght of at least 8 planes each, plus a 6-strong OCU. The platform was to be (Hear! Hear!) the F35C, even if the RAF was thinking about having carrier compatibility features deleted (replaced by ballast if necessary) or modified in order to reduce maintenance costs, e.g. the folding wings would have probably been permanently locked open. 
My thought is that this would have proven as absurd and unworkable as the famous Typhoon without gun, but whatever.  

This was the true start of the fortune of the F35C: as the RAF saw the FOAS killed, and the plan became a fleet of sole Typhoons and JCA (of a single type), the F35C became more and more attractive.
The MOD can hardly be blamed for failing to foresee all the troubles that hit the F35B, but this does not change the fact that now the most expensive (and less performing) variant of the JSF is indeed the STOVL one. Overall, all things considered, the switch to the F35C variant was TRULY the smartest decision that the SDSR could contain about JCA. 
The fears that remains are that: 
- the numbers of the JCA buy will now be very small, with just 40/50 reportedly being expected in 2020, even if long term planning is still said to be "around 100 airframes". 

-had the RAF gotten both F35B and F35C, chances of seeing the carrier-capable squadrons actually operating from the carriers would have been far higher. Now the willingness of the RAF to operate JCA from the Royal Navy's decks is somehow in doubt. It would be really embarrassing if the carrier strike capability was to remain purely "virtual", with the RAF effectively using the aircrafts as FOAS platforms from land bases only. 

The second is a fear the RN has had to live with by now from a long time: the JCA buy is a purely RAF affair, with all the F35 coming under RAF command and budget, and although (back when the plan was for 4 carrier capable squadrons) two squadrons (800° and 801° NAS) were expected to be mainly “dark blue” manned and commanded by RN officers, in practice the RAF was going to own all the F-35B's, base at RAF bases.  For JCA to appear regularly on CVF, the RAF would have had to change its deployment assumptions, which is sized and organized to support a number of Deployed Operational Bases (DOBs) each with a mixed set of Force Elements.  It would have to remove one DOB and replace it with a CVF airgroup.  However between them, the CVF's will want aircraft nearly all the time, while a RAF DOB has aircraft in it for only around 60 days a year.  Once the sums were done, it turned out that the tasked CVF would have only 12 F-35B's on it for most of the time, which was not regarded as sufficient or cost effective for large carriers.

Arguably, if the government does not force the RAF, in the next SDSR, to agree that the F35C fleet is prioritarily destined to the carriers, the situation will now be even worse.

The CATOBAR configuration 

With the switch from F35B to F35C, at least one of the two CVF vessels will now be kitted with Catapults and Arresting Wires, giving the ship a CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take Off; Barrier Arrested Recovery) architecture. 
CVF design had to be adaptable, and when the programme for the new aircraft carriers started, electromagnetic catapults were not really in sight, so that to ensure the possibility of reverting to CATOBAR design the ship was designed with space reservation sufficient to fit contemporary american C13 steam catapults, the ones currently used on all US aircraft carriers and on France's Charles De Gaulle. 

However, the C13 is a massive, mainteinance intensive, expensive steam system. The provvision of steam on nuclear vessels such as the Nimits and the CdG is not a problem, but its through-life cost implications, requirements for high volumes of steam and water present problems for a non-nuclear carrier like CVF, indeed the large amounts of water and steam required may have an adverse effect upon the carrier's electrical systems. Another problem facing designers was that a traditional steam catapult is not compatible with the Integrated Fully Electric Propulsion system planned for the CVF: Gas turbines and Diesel Generators are great to produce electricity, but they do not give you steam.
Installing a C13 catapult fit would require separate and expensive oil-fired auxiliary steam plant with considerable output, and space provvision for its fitting had to be made.

In the years that have passed, however, the concept of Electromagnetic Catapults has massively grown in maturity, and this new kind of kit, powered by electricity, is perfect for fitting in a IFEP ship architecture, so that now an EMCAT solution is the preferred approach for a CATOBAR CVF. EMCATs offer the prospect of significant life-cycle cost benefits (in terms of reduced maintenance and crew workload) and would also offer benefits for aircraft operations and flight-deck operability.   EMCAT's should increase launch performance and make significant reductions in installed weight, volume, and manning workload requirements. 
Early studies by DERA in the late 1990's indicated that a 90MW 300ft long linear motor EMCAT able to accelerate every 45 seconds a 100,000 lb. airplane to over 130 knots, or a lighter aircraft (such as UAV's) to 200 knots, would seem to be viable.

Across the Atlantic, the US Navy is actively planning for an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) to enter service aboard the projected CVN-21 new class of aircraft carriers from 2015, with the aim of replacing all the current Nimitz carriers and their steam catapults.
EMALS promises to deliver better performance and launch control that is tailored for a broader range of aircraft. It will accelerate aircraft weighing roughly 4500 to 45,000 kg to launch speeds of 100 to 370 km/h, with a controlled deftness that the inflexible, brute-force steam cats can't manage. Adjusting the power to the weight of the craft will mean less stress on the airframes, which will live longer, and it will also allow to launch smaller, lighter airplanes without breaking them apart. This will be especially crucial as the military adopts unmanned aircraft (UAV's) for surveillance as well as combat.

The EMALS uses a linear induction motor (LIM), which uses electric currents to generate magnetic fields that propel a carriage down a track to launch the aircraft. The EMALS consists of four main elements: The linear induction motor consists of a row of stator coils that have the function of a conventional motor’s rotor. When energized, the motor accelerates the carriage down the track. Only the section of the coils surrounding the carriage is energized at any given time, minimizing reactive losses. The EMALS' 300-foot (91 m) LIM will accelerate a 100,000-pound (45,000 kg) aircraft to 130 knots (240 km/h), with a cycle time between launches of 45 seconds, shorter than those achievable with current steam catapults, meaning more launches for minute. The induction motor requires a large amount of electric energy in just a few seconds — more than the ship's own power source can provide. EMALS' energy-storage subsystem draws power from the ship and stores it kinetically on rotors of four disk alternators. Each rotor can store more than 100 megajoules, and can be recharged within 45 seconds of a launch, faster than steam catapults. It is unclear, at the moment in which i write, if the CVF will need additional power sources in order to operate the EMCATs: in case, however, the ship has space to fit at least one and maybe two more MT30 gas turbines from Rolls Royce, each capable of 36 MW of electricity generation.

On June 30, 2009, General Atomics in San Diego, CA received an unfinalized $573 million ceiling-priced contract to build the EMALS shipset for the USS Gerald R. Ford [CVN 78], the first of the new aircraft carriers of the CVN-21 class. The shipset comprises 4 catapults.

EMALS has launched its first, operational fighter jet, a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet, on December 18, 2010, and it is expected to become operational in 2015 on USS Gerald R. Ford. Currently, its development is ongoing, and not without trouble, with the work having been stopped in March 2011 after a problem was found, requiring software adjustement. It is, however, by far the EMCAT system in the most advanced development phase in the world.

Meanwhile, in April 2006 Converteam (as Alstom had been renamed) was awarded a further MoD Research Acquisition Organisation for the design, build and testing of an Electro-Magnetic Kinetic Integrated Technology (EMKIT) unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV)  technology demonstrator to demonstrate electromagnetic launch technology through the testing of a high-speed high acceleration demonstrator using advanced linear motor technology.  The system commissioned in December 2006 with land-based trials started in early 2007. With two 3.2 MJ energy stores and a 14 metres launch length, it can launch UAV's of up to 500kg at a speed up to 50 m/sec.  The notional operation requirement is for a production  EMKIT system that will be able to launch UAV's such as the Hermes 180, Hermes 450 (notably this is the base airframes which, fitted with UK-mandated kit, the Royal Artillery has acquired as Watchkeeper drone), Eagle 1 and even Predator A from ships as small as a frigate. This is particularly interesting for potential use on the Type 26 frigate/global combat ship, but is obviously well far away from being sufficient for CVF. 

On June 20, 2010, however, Jane's reported that the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is funding development of an electromagnetic catapult system for the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers under a GBP 650,000 (about $1 million) EMCAT (electro-magnetic catapult) contract reportedly awarded to Converteam in July 2009 as a follow-on effort to continue the design, development and demonstration of high-power electrical systems for its EMCAT system. In October 2009, a smaller-scale demonstration of both controlled acceleration and braking had in fact already been performed using electromagnetic linear motors. This could lead to the same core systems being used for launch and recovery. New Low Voltage linear motors with reduced end effect coils were delivered in early 2010, paving the way for the design of medium voltage linear motors which will help Converteam scale up their design towards a full sized, working EMCAT capable to launch F35C fighter jets and other airplanes and drones. The 100 m-long EMCAT design will fit into a 1.5 m-deep well under the flight deck. It was promised that the prototype would be ready "in months". As of April 2011, no updates have reached me.

Unless some real progress is achieved in the coming months, so to ensure that the EMCAT is ready for a proper comparison with US EMALS in 2012, informing the MOD decision on the CVF conversion strategy, it is highly likely that EMALS will be ordered.
EMCAT is challenged by some very tight requirements:
-it must be ready and available in time (2015?), so that it does not cause costly delays to the CVF building process.
-it must be equal in performances to the US EMALS and come at an equal price too, or ideally at a lower one.
Considering that General Atomics started designing the EMALS in April 2004 under a 145 USD millions contract (which ran overcost several times in the years), Converteam will have to do something quite extraordinary to achieve such results in such limited time and under limited budget. My feeling is that EMALS is hardly going to have serious competition when in 2012 the choice is made... but i will be real happy if i'm proven wrong and Converteam starts succesfully launching F/A-18 airplanes into the air in the coming months. Gods know that some luck is needed these days in defence procurement programmes!

After the switch to F35C for JCA, at least one of the two CVF vessels will now closely resemble this concept art. Note the two catapults and the prominent angled deck with arrestor wires.

CVF configured as CATOBAR carrier will need arresting wires as well. On June 30, 2009, General Atomics received a $102.2 million modification to the unfinalized EMALS Ship-set contract to provide for the production of 1 counterpart Advanced Arresting Gear system ship-set for CVN-78. While EMALS will serve as the carrier’s launch technology, the Advanced Arresting Gear will offer related improvements around carrier landings, using a system based on electric motors rather than the Mk7 hydraulic system used with current arrester wires on present US Navy carriers. Unlike EMALS, AAG is also slated for refits to existing Nimitz class carriers.

For the UK CVF's arrestor wires, the competitors are the bulky, expensive, old and soon-to-be retired Mk7 hydraulic system (which would make almost as much sense as steam catapults...), the General Atomics AAG and, possibly, another miracle-solution from Converteam if they do develop it succesfully and in time.
Again, my feeling is that the AAG has no real competition, but i might prove wrong.

On October 29, 2010, in an interview with BBC Scotland during a visit to the Govan shipyard, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said that estimates for the addition of catapults to the Queen Elizabeth Class ranged “upwards from GBP 500m”. This is for a conversion carried out on the whole class, so on both ships, and it is compatible with the contract values earlier reported about US Navy orders: to convert both catapults, the UK would have to acquire 4 catapults and 2 AAG sets for, potentially, as much as 778 million dollars (roughly 478 million pounds at current exchange rate. Some cost would come from the redesign of the ships, which should however be minor, and possibly by adding additional power in, if this was necessary).

At the moment, everything is possible. Cameron reportedly wants one only carrier converted, the navy (and possibly Liam Fox) want both capable to operate full spectrum; the position of the RAF is unclear, as they appear mostly only concerned of ensuring that they get as many F35Cs as they can obtain, regardless of any other consideration.
It is possible that HMS Queen Elizabeth gets completed without sky jump but without cats and traps either, being retro-fitted at the time of her first refit, but it is also possible that one of the CVFs is left without the needed kit.

Mothballing one CVF? 

It is a well known fact that the SDSR contains the possibility of seeing one of the CVF vessels mothballed at very low readiness, or even the chance of selling it abroad. The selling possibility was played down by government and by Liam Fox himself, while apparently the mothballing option is still strong. Let's take a look at the situation:

With the retirement of the Harrier GR9 and HMS Ark Royal, the UK is left currently incapable to deploy airpower at sea/from the sea.
HMS Illustrious and HMS Ocean remain in service as Landing Platform, Helicopters LPH for the support of amphibious power projection. HMS Illustrious is coming out of a long refit as of April 2011, while HMS Ocean is to soon enter her own. Illustrious has indeed been retained to cover the LPH role while Ocean is in dock for refit, and the last of the Invincibles is in fact planned to leave service in 2014, leaving Ocean alone for some time, until HMS Queen Elizabeth comes into service, most likely without catapults and arresting wires.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will busy with trials and exercises for quite a long time, during which HMS Ocean will be needed to hold the fort, but then we'll reach a point in which money will be needed to give Ocean the last refit for sustaining her last years of service, while HMS Queen Elizabeth, new and capable, will be facing the prospect of ending up mothballed or even sold roughly in the same time, as HMS Prince of Wales comes and makes her own debut.

Unless the UK experiences an increase in the priority that the government(s) give to the armed forces, the Royal Navy will be hard pressed to run within a very tight budget, and one of these three behemoths will probably be seen as "too much". Hence the voices of mothballing one of the two CVFs.
Assuming that HMS Queen Elizabeth enters service in 2016 as planned, with HMS Prince of Wales following in 2020 (date is currently indicated in 2018, but this is at odds with the 2020, SDSR-determined date for the Carrier Strike vessel's In Service Date, due to conversion to CATOBAR time not being factored in into the 2018 figure), HMS Ocean could retire in 2018 or earlier, leaving HMS Queen Elizabeth alone for a few years, until it is joined by her sister, configured from the start as Strike Carrier.
Then, ideally, in 2022, at the time of the first refit, HMS Queen Elizabeth should be fitted with catapults and arrestor wires as well, so to ensure continuity of service when HMS Prince of Wales is unavailable herself.

In this proposal, both carriers would be kept in active service by means of sacrificing the "Mighty O" with an early retirement in place of putting one brand-new, world-beating vessel into reserve.
There will be a considerable space between scheduled refits of Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales due to the different dates of entry into service, so to ensure, bar unlikely and exceptional events, that one Carrier/LPH is always available, all around the clock, 366 days a year, year after year.
When both carriers are available, one would operate as Strike Carrier, one as LPH, with the strike carrier and LPH roles both ending up on the shoulders of a single vessel when the sister ship is in refit or otherwise unavailable.

Doing with two ships what normally requires three hulls.

The delay in the kitting of HMS Queen Elizabeth is meant as a way to help the MOD fund the programme by spreading the costs over more years, further away in time when, hopefully, the current funding crisis will have been overcome.
On 23 November 2010 the Chief of the Defence staff General Sir David Richards affirmed that HMS Queen Elizabeth would be fitted as a conventional carrier by saying: "The short delay to the first carrier, to allow it to be fitted with 'cats and traps', means that when it comes into service in 2019 it will be equipped with the hugely capable carrier variant of Joint Strike Fighter."

Short delay? From 2016 to 2019 is not what i call "short". My fear is that kitting out the first vessel front-loads costs and risks causing delays to the whole CVF programme: both carriers are to be built by the same industries, and moreover they will be assembled and refitted into the very same dock in Rosyth. If the conversion work ends up keeping Queen Elizabeth in dock for longer than planned, the construction of Prince of Wales will also effectively be stopped, causing expensive delays that the MOD cannot afford.

On the other hand, if Queen Elizabeth can be rolled out of dock in time, and have conversion work continuing without hampering Prince of Wales's own progress, i recognize that there is a potential advantage: having the strike carrier ready early would (in theory) allow the RN to host on board US and French airgroups to help rebuild deck-crew experience and reform carrier strike operations knowledge. If the F35C hits, as apparently planned, In Service Date, even with just 8 planes, in 2018, trials and carrier-borne operations "all british" could also begin early.

It largely depends by the effective impact of the conversion on the building phase of the vessels. 

The CVF as “Sea Base”: HMS Queen Elizabeth will, most of the time, go to sea with 12 F35C embarked, plus most likely a squadron of 6 Merlin HM2 whenever these are not too busy deploying on board of frigates, plus 4 MASC platforms, that in my plan would be Hawkeyes.
Periodically, the CVF will embark Royal Marines and helicopters from the Commando Helicopter Force, since it appears that, after Ocean’s retirement, the CVF will be the all-doing workhorse of the fleet.
This could mean embarking at once 12 F35C, 4 MASC platforms, 6 Chinook, possibly a few Apache AH1 helicopters (six to eight) and a number of Merlin HC4 helicopters. Helicopters require a lot less personnel on deck, and there would thus still be space for around 400 to 500 Royal Marines in unused accommodations for the crew. This could be increased in overload condition, with austere accommodations.

It would be a massively capable LHA, but with some downsides: differently from Ocean, the CVF has not been designed to embark vehicles, not even light ones. Vehicles would have to be put on the flight deck in port using cranes, and then brought into the hangar thanks to the 70 tons-capable lifts of the ship. However, only lightweight vehicles should be loaded onto the CVF: only loads that a Chinook can bring ashore as under slung payload, because it would be otherwise impossible to disembark them bar the availability of a well equiped port.
Inside an amphibious Task Group, the CVF could for example carry a number of Viking vehicles (that can be underslung on Chinooks), pallets of ammunitions and supplies, and the L118 Light Guns (and later, in my programme, the M777 Howitzers) of the Commandos. All stuff, in other words, that will be possible to actually bring ashore by helicopter, leaving the heavy loads to the LPD(s) and LSD(A)s.

Another area where the CVF lacks capacity is the management of Landing Crafts: Ocean embarks 4 LCVP MK5 and normally carries the LCACs as well. Ideally, the CVF should be made capable of carrying these as well, to maintain a proper force of Landing Crafts to sustain the flow of forces, supplies and vehicles to the beaches. While the LCAC might be parked on the deck and lowered to the sea thanks to the wheeled, mobile crane chosen as standard fit on CVF, this would be even less optimal with LCVP MK5. The Royal Navy might want to evaluate, in the first refit time of the CVFs, if it is cost-effective and viable to install davits on the Port side of the vessels. They could find space in sponsons under the Flight Deck edge, in a fashion similar to the sponsons under each island, on Starboard side, that hold the MT30 gas turbines.

With the demise of HMS Ocean, it is to be hoped that both CVFs will be rolled into service, ending the nonsensical rambling of mothballing one. With both ships operative, it can even be imagined that, was the need to ever arise, in a major operation both ships would set sail, possibly one in Strike role carrying a full airwing, with the other one in LPH role, carrying Commando Helicopter Force Merlins and AAC Apache and Chinooks plus a large complement of Marines.

As a pure LPH, a CVF could carry an air group on the lines of:

18 x Medium lift transport helicopters Merlin HC.4
6 x Heavy lift transport  helicopters Chinook HC.4
6 x WAH-64 Apache attack helicopters;
4 x Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control
     aircraft/helicopters/UAV's (MASC)
Possibly as many as 500 or more Marines with some of their heavy gear.

A future Task Group fielded by the Royal Navy would consist of:
-          At least one CVF, carrying a Squadron of F35C and helicopters plus a few hundred Royal Marines and part of their supplies and kit
-          At least one LPD, if not both, carrying the heavy vehicles and fielding PACSCAT landing crafts plus two Chinooks each. (NOTE: an amphibious assault is unlikely to be the very first thing the UK does in a major crisis. If the operation was discretional, the UK would prepare in time and bring the second LPD back into full service from the reserve, and start preparing the vessels for the operation. Similarly, acting in response of an attack would still give, in most scenarios, the time to bring the second LPD back in service before an Amphibious Operation was staged. It is anyway to be hoped that the RN will be able to regenerate the LPD in the coming years as budget pressure eases and other major units (HMS Illustrious, later HMS Ocean) retire. Secondarily, after Refit HMS Bulwark and Albion will be able to operate with two Chinooks on deck. (HMS Bulwark is coming out of her refit as I write, pretty much, and Albion will be refitted in the future).
-          Up to 3 LSD(A)s carrying the rest of the equipment
-          Up to all 6 the Point class RO-RO vessels coming with the heavy gear in the later hours/days of an assault operation.  

Two vessels are needed: both hulls will be sorely needed, especially when HMS Ocean bows out without replacement.

Both carriers need to be kitted for Aviation ops, with catapults and landing gear, to ensure that they can go in and out of active service as they periodically enter refit time. 
During ‘ordinary’ years, each CVF will spend 46 out of 52 weeks in operation. However, every six years, each CVF will be in a heavier maintenance cycle (including, under current plans, a dry-docking for some weeks) for half the year. In order to allow major work to be carried during such a short refit period - and when essential outside it -  the new carriers will be highly modularised.  Repairs and upgrades will generally be done by replacement (although it has been pointed out that repair in-situ sometimes can often end up being cheaper) and the design is being developed reflecting this approach, for example the big MT30 gas turbines are being placed high in the hull, directly under each island, ensuring easy access routes to allow their removal and replacement with just a few days of work. It is thus hoped that many maintenance activities will be possible while alongside in Portsmouth, and without requiring dry-docking.
When one of the two vessels enter refit, the other would enter active Strike Carrier service, with the air group moving onto it to continue providing One high-readiness carrier stike/LPH capability.

Keeping one of the two carriers “mothballed” as it has been proposed, especially after Ocean retires, means that there will be long gaps in coverage, periods in which the UK would be unable to put at sea any carrier strike capability, and would also be incapable to supply any kind of LPH support for the Marines, effectively killing the response capability of the nation’s armed forces to the unexpected. This would be twice as true if the reserve carrier was not properly kitted with Cats and Traps: even if a real emergency was to arise, despite wishful thinking, it would prove impossible to timely bring her back in service, get the needed kit, install it, and make it operative. It might as well be that the other carrier comes out of refit before the sister is readied! Pulling a ship out of mothballing might, in the best case, take a few weeks, and while this might be somewhat acceptable for a LPD (an amphibious assault is not likely to be the very first thing the UK does in a crisis, with how much planning and preparation such an operation requires), it cannot been accepted for a carrier. The lack of aircrafts at sea might take a massive toll on the fleet in the time it takes to get a ship ready.
An option for savings is to kit both ships,  but normally operate only one at a time, keeping the other at very low operational level, with a reduced, core crew that could be augmented in case of need, eventually by the very same crew of the sister ship if that was unavailable.
This would allow easy and fast movement of crew and air wing from one hull to the other, in any situation, to ensure a continuous coverage of the Carrier Strike/LHA slot in the force structure. 

The CVF will provide, nominally, 292 days a year of availability for operations. Even without major refits, a single ship is not capable to ensure capability in a continuous cycle. The CVFs are two because the navy wanted to have one always operative, with a combined 584 days-a-year of operational time.
This target must be met to ensure credibility to the british Armed Forces capability. 


Full cost of the CVF programme is not yet clear. The conversion strategy will determine the final figure. As of 2010, the NAO declared that they expected the two carriers to cost 5460 million pounds, or 2730 millions per ship, this figure being inclusive of Development and Manufacture. This figure might not prove entirely correct, and anyway does not include the exact value of the conversion programme. 

In 2009 the NAO Major projects report estimated that the decision to slow the project down, taken by the Labourist government of Gordon Brown in 2008, would cost £1,124 million in later years, giving a net increase of £908 million. This decision was poor value for money and the NAO examined it in detail in the Major Projects Report 2009.

The 'genial idea' at the time was to defer 450 million pounds of expenditure due in the years 1 to 4 of the building programme, at the cost of a sizeable cost growth and a slippage of ISD dates of 1 year for QE and 2 years for PoW.

In their 2010 Major projects report, the NAO explained that the 908 millions figure was based on an initial estimate given by industry, but that closer inspection revealed a further £650 million of cost expected, bringing the grand total of the cost increase to £1.56 billion (compare that with the 450 millions that were instead due and sufficient!). Note that this is a delay and cost-growth caused merely and exquisitely by political stupidity and not by technical problems. 

The original price of CVF at the moment of contract signature, in STOVL configuration, was 3.9 billion pounds for both vessels. 
Note that, at least for now, wasn't it for the suicidal political move of the labour government, the building phase of CVF has experienced almost no cost growth at all, as recognized implicitly by the NAO report (5.46 billions - 1.56 billion = 3.9 billions). The only cost increase really unrelated to the 2008 delay is indicated in "£117 million of additional costs including increases in the expected cost of materials and changes to the build strategy." 

Then again, cost of materials has of course grown since 2008, so that i might dare and suggest that even this change is, at least in part, caused by the delay.

This is noticeable, since it is rare (to say the very least) that a programme of these sizes does not experience problems. Keep it in mind the next time you blame BAE for CVF cost increase, as the Carrier Alliance arguably has next to no fault at all in this.

Basing and Maintenance issues

On 2 July 2002 it was announced that the new carriers would be based at Portsmouth.  As part of a then just completed major redevelopment, Portsmouth had got long new jetty's suitable for berthing CVF's.  However there were problems, as it was admitted that the new carriers will have problems entering or exiting the base except on unusually big high tides, also Portsmouth has a narrow entrance channel and the two carrier could not pass each other.

In July 2003 a massive scheme to enhance Portsmouth Naval Base to take the CVF's was announced.  The plan, would ease access and support for the new aircraft carriers and Type 45 destroyers. Jetty refurbishment, which began in 2004, will involve the rebuilding of two jetties – South Railway and Fountain Lake – and the possible upgrading of others.

Considerable work was also carried out on surveying a potential route into harbour for the new flat-tops – the existing main channel being neither deep enough nor wide enough to allow safe passage of the CVF.   An estimated four million cubic metres (141,258,667 cubic feet) of material will have to be scooped out of the channel and also in the harbour itself. 

Most of the money for the provision of CVF berthing, to this day, remains to be spent, and most of the work still has to be done. According to the NAO report of July 2011, The MOD is undertaking a Develop Preferred Option Phase costing £5.3 million to work with industry to develop costed solutions for the berthing requirements for one carrier at Portsmouth. The Business Case states that there is a £109 million provision for the berthing, but recognises that “there remain affordability and programme challenges…for the deliverability of this requirement”. The Department will address the need for a second berth once there is more certainty about the future of the second carrier after the 2015 SDSR. While it should eventually be possible to berth two CVFs in Portsmouth (or Rosyth) simultaneously, for military reasons this may not be desirable.  Options are therefore being considered to make use of an occasional stand-by berth for the high-readiness CVF that's not subject to the arrival and departure restrictions associated with Portsmouth Naval Base. 

It's also been suggested by Rand that the MOD should seriously think about the long term advantages of providing a dry dock at the carriers homeport, but this would be a complex and expensive exercise at Portsmouth, where massive work would need to be done to prepare such a dock. There are only two or three other UK dry docks able to accommodate ships of about 280 metres length.  At Rosyth there is the 1017 ft (310 x 31.4 m) No. 1 Dock operated by Babcock Rosyth (and the likely site of CVF assembly).  In Northern Ireland there is the massive 1100 ft (335 x 50.3 m) Belfast Dry Dock operated by Harland and Wolff Group - this had a difficult few years but recently (as of early 2007) it has again become an active ship repair facility.  In Scotland there is also the 1000 ft (305 x 47 m) Inchgreen drydock on the Clyde, now owned by AMEC, but this has rarely been in operation in recent years. 

The French Marine Nationale at the Toulon Naval Base is fortunate enough to have two huge dry docks which are able to accommodate even a Nimitz class aircraft carrier.  These would almost certainly be available to the UK if required, and indeed there was a drive to build blocks of the CVF in France (when France still planned its PA2 Richelieu to be a modified, CATOBAR CVF) where lower costs were promised. This was judged politically unacceptable, however, and successive calls to plan future CVF refits in France have also been fought back: as of now, CVF’s dry dock is No1 dock, Rosyth.

CVF construction

In January 2006 Babcock disclosed that plans were being finalised for the necessary infrastructure modifications at Rosyth for the work on assembling CVF.  This included work to widen the direct entrance to Rosyth (expanded to 42.1 meters), and work on the massive No1 dock, and to dockside lifting capacity.  Rosyth’s 60 acre non-tidal basin (512 by 437 metres, with a depth 13m) has been made suitable as a CVF testing and commissioning location - able to accommodate both CVF's simultaneously and provide a trials environment.  Site survey work commenced in April 2006, with silt samples being taken.

On 11 February 2008 Babcock Engineering Services signed a £35 million contract with Edmund Nuttall Limited to modify docks at Rosyth in order to accommodate the building of the carriers and widen its direct entrance.  Partially contradicting a previous statement in July 2007, the MOD said that the "The total investment in Rosyth [for CVF] will amount to £50m which will also provide for the necessary equipment to be purchased, such as the 'Goliath' crane, the largest in the UK, and hauling gear", this being required to move the ships' modules into position.

A resume of the changes that Rosyth had to undergo to prepare for CVF's challenges.

The No1 dock was originally built between 1907 and 1916 and used for battleships: as it was, it was long enough to accommodate CVF, but its cross- section was unsuitable for modern warship building, the ship's hull being flat-bottomed rather than the traditional V-shape of the 1916-era battleships. Huge granite steps, known as altars, that stuck out from the side of the dock have had to be cut back to the width of the top tier, widening the dock by 9 meters. The entrance to the dock was also widened from 38 meters to 42. However, the stepped altars were structurally important and BAM Nuttall had to compensate for their removal by installing 150 rock anchors up to 21m into the sides of the dock.

A view of Rosyth from above, with indication of the work carried out for the CVF programme.

Both the widening of the Direct Entrance to the Basin and the Dock work required an innovative and massive cofferdam to be installed so that the working areas could be dewatered. Five large circular cells, each 18.5m in diameter, sit on the bed of the basin to a depth of 11m, linked by connecting arcs. The cells are constructed of 500mm wide steel sheet piles linked together and vibrated into the floor of the basin. When completed, they are backfilled with some 8,000 tons of granular material into each cell. In a clever nod to both cost and environmental considerations, the entire cofferdam was removed following completion of works in No 1 Dock and re-used to dewater the Direct Entrance.

The gigantic No1 Dock is prepared for its role.

On 03 July 2008, the contract for the construction of the two vessels was signed, with a value of 3.9 billion pounds.  

In July 2009 Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal cut first steel for HMS Queen Elizabeth, thus beginning the aircraft carrier build programme. Since then construction of the ship has moved on at a pace with manufacture well underway at all six shipyards across the country, collectively employing over 8,000 people.  The CVF are built in blocks that are then assembled together. The graphic below shows each of the many blocks that together will form QE and PoW. 

CVF's blocks map.

2010 saw various steel cutting ceremonies at ships yards in England as the first piece of the HMS Queen Elizabeth was cut in Tyneside, Portsmouth and Merseyside. 8 April 2010 saw the first piece of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the bulbous bow, arriving in Rosyth on the barge “Osprey Carrier”, towed by the tug “Vigilant”. By summer 2010, work was well underway and major deliveries were being made right across the supply chain. 

In December 2010 the Goliath Crane began its ten week, 14,000 mile journey from Shanghai where it took two years to build.  At a height of 223ft, the £12 million crane is the largest in the UK in terms of lift capacity.  On arrival at Rosyth, the crane was erected on the ship, wheeled onto the dock rails, trialed and commissioned, and is now ready for its first heavy lift of an upper block of the aircraft carrier structure, expected in September 2011. 

QE's bow travels towards Rosyth. All the pieces of the bow Block of Queen Elizabeth are alredy in Rosyth, ready for when the moment of their assembly comes.

In February 2011, construction took a significant step forward in Glasgow at BAE Systems’ yard when two massive sections of the hull were joined together.  These form the mid section of the hull up to the hanger deck known as Lower Block 03.  In August this block will be transported by barge from Govan to Rosyth for the start of the assembly phase in the dry dock.  Work is progressing on Lower Block 04 which is the largest and most complex section of the carrier and will weigh almost 11,500 tonnes when fully outfitted.

Block joining.

Less than 12 months after the first two modules that make up the bow section (LB01) of HMS Queen Elizabeth left Babcock’s facility in Appledore, the four remaining modules travelled from Appledore by barge to Rosyth in March.  The complete forward end structure of HMS Queen Elizabeth now resides on the dockside at Rosyth.

Moving south to Portsmouth, work on Lower Block 02, which is a third of the carrier’s mid section, is nearing structural completion.  The operation to move the first ring into position took place in April 2011 with the 60 foot high 2,500 tonne structure needing 184 wheels for the six hour move to slot in next to its neighbouring section marking another milestone in the construction of the new carriers.

In May 2011, a steel cutting ceremony was held in BAE Systems’ yard in Govan to start the construction of the HMS Prince of Wales. 

On 7 July 2011, the Goliath crane was commissioned

On 14 July 2011, construction on Queen Elizabeth's forward Island started in Portsmouth. The superstructure, a Block in its own right, houses the bridge and navigation systems and is fundamental to the effective command and control of the vessel. The island also includes the vessel’s long range air search radar, the same S1850M present also on the Daring class Type 45s, providing wide area surveillance up to 400 kilometres.

This new image, appeared on the RN's website, is good to see the modified sponson supporting the prominent angled deck. There also appear to be two large bays for ship's boats, perhaps even big enough to fit LCVP MK5-capable davits. 

July 29, the LB03 block, fitted out, was revealed to the public for the first time as the section was slowly moved out of a hall at the BAE Systems shipyard in Govan, Glasgow, where it has been built. The move, overseen by a team of 10, took just over one hour, as 64 remote controlled transporters carefully moved the 8000 tons carrier section 200 metres across the specially reinforced tarmac. 

These images make it easy to realize the massive sizes of the ships, but also the width of the hangar, and the large side-overture of the aircraft lift.

Video from BBC here

A great article of The Sun includes photos of one of the crew cabins showing the furniture and also provides an interesting image of a weapon depot, with some of the rails of the semi-automated ammunition moving system visible on the floor. 
On Sunday 31 August, LB03 - a monster 66ft (20m) high, 207ft (63m) long and 131 ft wide (40 meters) with a weight of over 8000 tons - was loaded onto the 6,000-tonne barge AMT Trader, which was built in 1978 in Germany and is one of only two of its size in the world. The barge can carry up to 25,400 tonnes of cargo, and was towed over from the Gulf of Mexico in March expressly for the purpose. It'll be towed by two tugboats, and chased on land by over 50 cyclists who will leave the Govan yard on the same day to take on a gruelling 500 mile cycle around the north of Scotland in an attempt to ‘beat the block’ to its final destination and raise money for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity.
The block is loaded on the barge
The barge will move on 16 August, and start the 600 miles travel to Rosyth. Meanwhile, at Govan, construction of Lower Block 04, the largest and most complex section of hull, is progressing.
LB04 is the largest superblock of the CVF "puzzle", and also the most complex. Among other things, it contains good part of the propulsion system, from the huge Converteam electric motors which will transmit power to the ship's shafts to the huge Wartsila 11 MW diesel generators seen in this photo.
  LB03 houses 160 cabins (sleeping more than 300 crew) along with the ship's bakery and dining hall, and it is only a part of the Queen, which, when complete, will also include an operating theatre, cinema, gym, and dentist's surgery.

16 August - Since moving out of the shipbuilding hall at Govan two weeks ago, LB03 has had workers  working constantly on it to complete final preparations, including sea fastening, to ensure the block is ready for her departure from the Clyde. Today, the block left on the massive badge, and over the next five days, the block will travel around the north coast of Scotland before arriving into Rosyth on Sunday 21 August.

A week later, on Monday 29 August, the team will undertake a complex operation to sink the submersible barge, allowing the hull section to enter into the water for the first time. It will be the first part of QE entering the water, indeed. Lower Block 03 will then be manoeuvred into position in the dry dock where approximately 350 Govan-based employees will rejoin the block as they work in partnership with employees at Babcock to complete the outfitting and assembly phase on this section of the ship. At that point, assembly of the enormous ship will begin for real in Rosyth.

British Forces News gives us a video report of the barge moving down the Clyde, and also reports that: "Both vessels will be converted to accommodate Joint Strike Fighter jets."
I certainly hope so, but this is actually not yet certain.

Minister Gerald Howarth seems to suggest that they are effectively looking at fitting both ships, but does not go far enough to provide any firm assurance. Video. 

August 25 - With LB03 now in Rosyth and planned to be floated down the barge and into the dock on Monday 29, A&P Tyne announces that they have completed their share of the work (Hangar blocks, inclusive of a Galley floor and covered by the flying deck) five weeks ahead of schedule.

September 1 - LB03 was unloaded from the barge on 30 August, becoming the first part of QE to touch the water and float. Today, September 1st, the block sits within the dry dock, under the Goliath crane, waiting for the A&P Tyne blocks to arrive, so that the assembling can begin.

The complex operation for unloading LB03 from the submersible barge, pictured on 30 August 2011. A big thank you to cockneyjock1974, who took this and other awesome shots, and shared them up at Key Publishing Ltd
Again thanks to cockneyjock1974 for letting us see LB03 now sitting safely inside the dock, under the Goliath crane. Assembling will soon begin.
13 September 2011 - work in Rosyth continues, and more pieces of QE are now lined up along the dock and working area, as we progress. Thanks to cockneyjock1974, we get to see what looks like some of the many Sponsons blocks, and LB01, waiting for assembly.

In the red circles: left what appears to be a huge sponson, right what probably is LB01. 

The barge with the Hangar blocks built by A&P Tyne drives into Rosyth.

21 September 2011 - with LB03 in the dock and the CB03 sections, built by A&P Tyne, already in Rosyth, friday the assembly of HMS Queen Elizabeth will start, according to plan, as the first CB unit is lifted by the Goliath crane and installed atop LB03, to start covering the middle hangar area.

The huge mid hull section, known as Lower Block 03 (LB03), arrived at Rosyth in August, having been shipped from Govan where it was built by BAE Systems. This was followed by the arrival this month (September) of the four sections making up Centre Block 03 (CB03), from Newcastle where they were built by A&P Tyne. The sponsons for this section (which form part of the ship structure to provide a wider flight deck), constructed by Babcock, are already in Rosyth following delivery of the components from Babcock’s Appledore shipyard in Devon.

The massive 8,000 tonne LB03 section is over 20 metres high, 60 metres long and 40 metres wide. On arrival at Rosyth the barge transporting it was sunk to float the block, which was then towed to the main basin and winched into No.1 Dock using a capstan system and alignment aids in the dock, where it was lowered on to the pre-prepared dock blocks. Once in place, the dock gates were closed, the dock drained, and services connected to enable work on the block to commence.

The first of the four CB03 sections, weighing some 850 tonnes and measuring 40 metres by 26 metres by 7 metres, will this week be lifted onto the LB03 block. This will be followed by the remaining three CB03 sections, each weighing in the region of 600 tonnes, as well as the sponsons for this centre block.

LB03 in dock
Assembly of the aircraft carrier will take place in three cycles, A, B and C. The assembly of the sections LB03 and CB03 and associated sponsons to create Block 03 makes up Assembly Cycle A, which has now begun and will continue to summer 2012. Assembly Cycle B will see the joining of Lower Block 02, which will arrive from BAE Systems in Portsmouth next year, and Lower Block 01 (comprising the forward sections from the keel up to the flight deck, including the bulbous bow) which was built by Babcock at its Appledore shipyard in Devon and shipped to Rosyth last year (April 2010). This will take place between summer 2012 and spring 2013. The remaining blocks, including the stern sections and island structures, will be assembled in Cycle C, with the hull fully assembled by 2014. Progressive outfitting will see electrical cabling, mechanical pipe systems, ventilation, and fittings and equipment installed.

Meanwhile, Janes' continues to report that Prince of Wales is the Strike Carrier.

While Prince of Wales - the second of class for which manufacturing activities began in May 2011 - will be configured for CV operations from build, the advanced state of work on Queen Elizabeth has meant that the the retrofit of catapults and arrestor gear would be impractical without major disruption to the build program. Queen Elizabeth will therefor be completed in 2016 to the original STOVL configuration (minus ski-jump) and enter service to prove the platform, provide crew training and achieve rotary wing clearances. Queen Elizabeth will then enter a state of extended readiness around 2019 when Prince of Wales enters service.

In the middle, there's SDR2015, and the stated "wish" of ensuring both carriers are hard worked and jet-capable. And there's two roles for the second carrier, that would justify it: unless the amphibious requirement is downsized further (and that would be nothing short of demented), we'll need a LPH to replace Ocean and be available in the long term.
Secondarily, the need for a second carrier, jet-capable, is very real if the power projection capability is to be ever present, and not available in periods, with big holidays in the middle...

September 28, 2011 - The first part of CB03 block, (the sections of hangar built by A&P Tyne) has been lifted by the Goliath crane and installed on LB03, as planned. Assembly continues, while good news arrive from the EMALS tests in the US: the 96th successful test launch saw an E2D Hawkeye (the latest model of embarked AEW plane of the US navy, with 75 on order) taking off at Lakehurst, propelled by the EMALS.

The article also reports, yet again, that the two-rails EMALS set ordered by the UK is for HMS Prince of Wales.

General Upgrades

Defence minister Nick Harvey announced to Parliament that a seagoing core crew for the new aircraft carriers will count 760 crewmembers, against the current Navy and ACA figures, much lower. 
The RN is known to use crews larger than necessary to ensure that the ships can be kept operational at sea as frequently as possible without crew members breaking harmony guidelines for deployments. This might in part explain the difference. The 760 figure might also include an increase in crew due to the switch to cats and traps operations. 
Or it might simply be an error on mr. Harvey's side. He is not new to mistakes in his declarations, about aircraft carriers in particular. 

On late April 2011, reports were leaked to the press that the cost of the carrier programme might soar as high as 7 billions if both are converted to cats and traps.  While an increase is certain, the 7 billions figure might be closer to scaremongering than to reality, and anyway the cost will not be calculated and agreed until the plan is finalized in late 2012. How can the cost of the conversion be "calculated" when there's no decisions on issues such as if one or both carriers will be converted, and which kind of catapult will be installed, is anyone's guess. Wild estimate? A kind of threat to the Royal Navy (and to Liam Fox, known supporter of carrier strike) in order to shut down louder and louder calls for a return of a number of Harriers for use on HMS Illustrious...? 
Wouldn't surprise me. 

On early May 2011 instead we are told that HMS Prince of Wales might be renamed HMS Ark Royal to keep the glorious name alive. A nicer bit of news, even though PoW isn't a bad name itself. 

24 May 2011 - A recent round of Parliamentary answers provides some interesting data: 

Peter Luff:
As announced in the strategic defence and security review on 19 October 2010, we will fit one of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers with catapults and arrestor gear to operate the more capable carrier variant joint strike fighter.
Investigations into the aircraft launch and recovery systems—and a wide range of other factors—are under way. At this stage, the US Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) catapult and the US Advanced Arrestor Gear (AAG) recovery system appears to be the most promising solution, though we have not ruled out steam catapults or MK7 arrestor gear.
We currently expect to take firm decisions on the overall conversion strategy in late 2012.
Note that, officially, the decision if ONE or BOTH carriers are to be rekitted is expected in late 2012. What's the lie and what's the truth...?  Anyway, this answer is compliant to my earlier assessment of the likely catapults/wires fit.

Liam Fox:

Up to 8 May 2011 the UK has flown about 300 GR4 Tornado and 140 Typhoon sorties as part of Operation Ellamy. Both aircraft types have conducted missions to protect civilians in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, and the Typhoons have also conducted missions in support of no-fly zone enforcement.
In all, approximately 240 weapons have been fired by these aircraft during these missions. These were a combination of Dual Mode Seeker Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles, Enhanced Paveway II and Paveway IV Precision Guided Munitions. I am unable to provide a breakdown of these figures for reasons of operational security.
This data is interesting, because it allows to notice that a CVF properly kitted and with its wartime airgroup would only be needing to embark new aviation fuel just about now, while weaponry would still be available in spades in the cavernous holds of the carrier. The CVF holds fuel and weaponry for a minimum of 396 strike sorties.

May 26, 2011 - Today the building of the second CVF, HMS Prince of Wales, has been officially started with a ceremony on the Clyde and with minister for defence Liam Fox starting the steel-cutting for the second carrier.

June 29, 2011 -  The Goliath crane at No.1 Dock in Rosyth was commissioned today after installation and testing was completed. In September, the crane will start the "real job" by lifting the first 850 tons section of HMS Queen Elizabeth as the assembly begins.

July 7, 2011 - The NAO has published its Carrier Strike report, which proves the forecasts appeared on this blog right.

It is Prince of Wales that gets converted, and not Queen Elizabeth as many, press included, erroneously reported for a long time. QE will enter service as LPH in 2016, and also allow deck crew to familiarize with the carrier, and in 2020 PoW will enter service as Carrier Strike.
That day, the state of the budget will rule what option is pursued:
A) Mothballing QE
B) Keep her as LPH
C) Keep her as LPH but also fit catapults to her in her first refit in 2022.

Interestingly, it also looks like the Buddy-Buddy refueling scenario is a very serious thing.
The most likely solution is UK-built:

“Cobham is the world leader in buddy-store technology. The buddy store is a combination external fuel tank and hose reel mounted on tactical aircraft. The 31-301 buddy store is used extensively by the U.S. Navy, converting the S-3 and F/A-18E/F into tactical tankers. The 31-301 is also being considered for a similar role on the Joint Strike Fighter Aircraft.”

There is also official confirmation that the carriers will be “Landing Helicopter Aviation” sea-bases: the MOD calls it “Carrier Enabled Power Projection”.

PoW will almost certainly be fitted with US-built EMALS and AAG wires.
When the UK orders the kit, it will be the third EMALS/AAG set built (after the trial one and the kit bought by the US Navy for USS Gerald Ford).
Cost estimate for the conversion of PoW is still ongoing. The NAO puts it at 800 to 1200 million, which i continue considering a bit high looking at the prices paid by the US Navy for the same kit: redesign and lengthened building schedule evidently have a considerable impact.

The NAO, despite highlighting the risks of the switch, also consistently agrees that, based on the data available, the assumption that F35C will be cheaper and better value for money is to be considered realistic.

The reports also highlights that, so far, industry is delivering and keeping roughly on time and budget. The 1.56 billion cost overrun is due to the (in)famous labour-mandated delay in the building. 

For the rest, pretty much nothing new/surprising.

15 July 2011 - Cheap british catapults to help the conversion of CVF?

Despite my pessimism, it appears that Converteam has made sufficient progress with its EMCAT design to put forwards a proposal to the MOD, and apparently, it is a great proposal: Converteam have offered to build a land based full scale prototype electro magnetic catapult and a ship set (2 catapults) for a Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier at a cost of £140 Million, as reported by the Sunday Times and by GrandLogistics blog. 
This would compare very well with the price the US Navy is paying for an EMALS set (4 catapults) for USS Gerald R. Ford, as their contract has a fixed ceiling of 573 million USD, roughly 370 million pounds. 
If the 140 million figure is correct, the UK could buy two catapults sets, one for each CVF, while still saving 90 or more millions compared with EMALS. 

Several issues remain: the cost might be optimistic, the design work might be still long and impact the shipbuilding schedule (if the catapults arrive late and the CVF building is stretched, cost rises very rapidly as happened with Labour's catastrophic delay idea, cause of over a billion of cost overrun) and EMALS is well withing its launch tests routine, having succesfully launched F18s, Goshawk and Greyhounds. 

However, if Converteam can make it, this is a great, great piece of news. 

Meanwhile, it has been declared that by 2020, 6 planes will be available for CVF, with numbers working up from there. It has also been stated that 950 million have been reserved for the CVF conversion. If Converteam made the miracle and allowed both ships to be kitted for that amount, it would be nothing short of fantastic. 

And the US might even get interested.

19 July 2011 -As part of a series of announcements on Defence Transformation, Liam Fox confirms that funding has been made available for the conversion of the Queen Elizabeth class carrierS and for the initial batches of F35Cs orders, also thanks to a 1% increase in real terms in the equipment budget in the years from 2015-16 to 2020-21. Drilled about the carrierS term, he delivers the statement:

Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Secretary of State confirm the exact details of the announcement he made in his statement when he said, “I can therefore now give the go-ahead for the procurement of” a list of things, including “the cat and traps for the Queen Elizabeth class carriers”. Does that mean that both carriers will receive cat and traps?
Dr Fox: That is our plan, and I have agreed to my officials now getting involved in contract negotiations. They were not previously able to do so because we were not guaranteed that we would have the budget. When we make decisions of this nature we must ensure that we have the wherewithal to pay for them. Otherwise, as I have said, they are simply a wish list. 

It can be read here, scrolling to 18 July 2011 : Column 656.  
20 July 2011 -  the clarity inspired by yesterday's statements is already lost, as "the Ministry of Defence insists that Liam Fox made a mistake and "misspoke" on the matter, in a fair of the absurd that we all hope will soon be ended.
A spokeswoman added: "As previously announced, only one of the carriers will get the cat and trap."

However, Labour MPs, who have been pushing for both carriers to be brought into service to allow for continuous carrier capability in the Royal Navy, as well as boosting jobs on the Clyde and at Rosyth, claimed last night that they had received private assurances from Dr Fox outside the chamber following the statement.

Mr Davidson said that he had taken the Defence Secretary at his word in the Commons and that Dr Fox would need to clarify his statements to MPs if a mistake had been made."

We'll now wait and see what happens. Some real clarity, for once, really would be welcome.

25 August 2011 - Declarations and speculation continue on whether both carriers will be converted or not: the idea is to convert both, but it will depend on funding and eventually on what SDSR 2015 will say.

Gerald Howarth, Minister for International Security Strategy, told the Portsmouth News that he hoped to reverse the decision in 2015.

"The SDSR concluded we needed one carrier but clearly that has its own limitations in availability and clearly the 2015 defence review gives us an opportunity to look again in the prevailing economic conditions and see where we go from there," he said.

"Clearly, all of us would like two aircraft carriers because that gives us the continuous at-sea capability.

"We've had to take some pretty tough decisions but we're hoping to be in a position to recover that one in 2015."

Meanwhile, further evidence emerges that, as i've been saying in a long time, it is very likely that QE will be (at least initially) built without cats and traps, entering service mainly as LHA to replace HMS Ocean in 2016, while simultaneously doing ship and deck trials to inform the conversion of HMS Prince of Wales during built.

The government has since said that only one carrier will be converted to use the Electro-magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and that it would likely be the second-in-class, HMS Prince of Wales.

13 September 2011 -  It is official: HMS Prince of Wales will be the Carrier Strike vessel, fitted at build with EMALS catapults. Liam Fox confirmed it speaking to Jane's in the run-up to the Defence Security and Equipment International (DSEi) exhibition, held in London from 13-16 September.

"We now have a slot for the EMALS catapult system being fitted. It will be fitted first of all to the Gerald R Ford , then the next slot will be for the British carrier and the next slot will be for the American John F Kennedy carrier. So we've got that confirmed from the Americans now; the Americans have successfully tested it."

It is now evident that QE will be completed as LPH, at least initially, and she's likely to represent the immediate solution to replace HMS Ocean, potentially as early as 2016. 

The USS John F. Kennedy, CVN-79, of the class CVN21, is scheduled to enter service in 2018, to replace USS Nimitz. There are however talks of delaying her acquisition as part of US defence spending squeeze. 
It should however be possible for the UK, providing the availability of funding and political will, to require a second UK EMALS kit for delivery by 2022, in time for the first planned refit to QE, in order to convert her as well into full Carrier standard. 

October 13, 2011 -  Northrop Grumman Corporation has signed a full production contract for the Navigation Lights Shapes and Sounds (NLSS) signaling system for the Royal Navy's next-generation Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers.

The system includes 47 lights utilizing state-of-the-art LED technology to ensure that it is night vision-friendly. The NLSS is a modern solution for navigation and signal lights plus control of ships' audible signaling equipment.

Deliveries will start in 2012.

November 1, 2010 - A fire broke out on LB03 block in Rosyth. About 40 firefighters were sent to tackle the blaze, which broke out in a stairwell just after 14:30. The Block was evacuated and all its parts checked to ensure that everything was in order.

No-one was injured in the fire, which was traced to an extractor fan, and Rosyth dockyard operator Babcock confirmed merely hours later that employees were back working as normal and said the fire had had "no consequences" on operations.

November 10, 2011 -  A&P Tyne delivered the Flight Deck sections for HMS Queen Elizabeth five weeks earlier than planned. They are now being installed in Rosyth atop the LB03 superblock, and they are starting to build the an equal kit of four Deck Blocks for HMS Prince of Wales. Their contract, worth some 55 million pounds, also included double-hulling the bottom of both vessels, but this work has been moved from A&P Tyne’s building yard in Hebburn, South Tyneside, to BAE Systems in Portsmouth. The switch is worth some 10% of the total contract cost, and has caused worry in A&P because they fear they will be without work contracts earlier than they have expected, which could cause consequences to the workforce and yard itself.
BAE is said to have moved the contract to Portsmouth pretty much for the same reason: lack of contracts to keep part of its workers busy.

November 15, 2011 -  The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified U.S. Congress Nov. 15 of a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to the Government of the United Kingdom.

The UK made the request for one kit of long lead sub-assemblies for the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System/Advanced Arresting Gear (EMALS/AAG) and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $200 million.

The EMALS long lead sub-assemblies include: Energy Storage System, Power Conditioning System, and Launch Control System. The AAG includes: Power Conditioning, Energy Absorption Subsystems, Shock Absorbers, and Drive Fairleads. Also proposed are other items for Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment, spare and repair parts, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documentation, software support, U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical, and logistics support services, and all other related elements of program support.

It is the first step in the acquisition process for ensuring that the Catapults and Arresting Wires are delivered for installation on HMS Prince of Wales in the coming years.

In time, hopefully, a second kit will be ordered to fit both vessels.