UK Back to "Aircraft Carrier Club"
(Source: China Military Online; issued Nov 24, 2017)
BEIJING --- The British Defense Ministry recently announced that the British Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth will be commissioned on December 7, which will put an end to the 3-year-long absence of aircraft carrier in the British Navy and put the UK back in the "carrier club".

Largest aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy

Queen Elizabeth is the first Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier, which entered water in July 2014. Its sister carrier Prince of Wales is still under construction.

Although it uses traditional power, the Queen Elizabeth will doubtlessly be the main force of the British Royal Navy in the future with its new carrier tonnage record of 65,000-ton full load displacement.

It is reported that Queen Elizabeth has the full length of 280m and maximal speed of 25 knots. It created the new concept of combining "ski jump" deck with electromagnetic catapult, and the F-35B fighter plane can make catapult-assisted take-off (C.A.T.O.). Queen Elizabeth adopts the diesel power system instead of nuclear power system because of inadequate budget.

The new aircraft carrier is able to carry 40 F-35B fighter planes. On amphibious assault mode, it can carry 18 Merlin transport helicopters, six CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters and six AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, or directly carry 25 Chinook transport helicopters.

Air control capability not the goal

Military analysts said that the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier doesn't pursue overall air supremacy but is focused on assault capability.

Zhang Hao, a senior military commentator, said Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier emphasizes ground attack capability and makes ground attack its main combat form. The purpose is to cooperate with the NATO members and execute external operations based on the NATO system.

According to Zhang Hao, in the age of Invincible class aircraft carrier, Britain relied on the type 42 destroyers for fleet air defense, but today the British Navy relies on the type 45 destroyers for air defense. This has been the tradition in the British navy. After WWII, Britain's first-generation Eagle large aircraft carrier relied on the County-class destroyers for air defense, but they were obviously inferior to aircraft carrier in air control capability.

Saving some face

Britain's only in-service aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious was decommissioned in August 2014, and this old maritime power found itself in the awkward position of having no carrier to use. The British Navy only saved some face with the upcoming commissioning of the Queen Elizabeth.

The UK is the first country in the world that designed the aircraft carrier. It used to have a wide range of carrier types, including the Illustrious class, Colossus class, Majestic class and Centaur class, and it occupies a significant position in the world history of carrier development.

According to analysts, the awkward situation of the British Navy is closely related with the continuous reign of the Labour Party from 1997 to 2010. The Labour Party is very passive in building aircraft carrier. During its 13-year reign, the Royal Navy's three Invincible class carriers were decommissioned, but the plan for building new carriers made almost zero progress.

Another reason for this situation is fiscal pressure. Zhang Hao said giving the continuously worsening fiscal situation, the new carrier plan is hard to become reality even if the UK realizes the importance of aircraft carrier. There is even news that the British Navy once planned to shelve the carrier Prince of Wales when it's completed and only keep one carrier in service.

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