June 13, 2016

Funky Carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and the SRVLs

In non-submarine news, several weeks ago the captain took control of UK aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, at Rosyth Dockyard in Scotland. The 65,000 to 71,000 tonne, conventionally propelled, Queen Elizabeth and its sister-ship Prince of Wales, will be the second-largest carriers in the world, after the USS Nimitz-class carriers. Then third, after the first US Nimitz sized Ford-class is commissioned.

The UK carrier program was to be a joint UK-French venture but France strongly wants to stay with nuclear propulsion. France is relying on heavily utilising its nuclear Charles de Gaulle rather than building a second or third carrier.

Only the US can afford to simultaneously operate supercarriers dedicated to fixed-wing and amphibious assault carriers (with helicopters, Ospreys, STOVL Harriers and F-35Bs).

Queen Elizabeth  is due to start sea trials in March 2017. Flight trials with helicopters will begin in 2017 and F-35B flight trials towards the end of 2018.  An "operational military capability" will be declared in 2020.

The Queen Elizabeth was designed primarily to carry the mainly F-35B air wing  (up to 40 max). A typical warload, however, might be  be 24 F-35Bs and some helicopters. These could be a Maritime Force Protection package of nine anti-submarine Merlin HM2 and five Merlin Crowsnest for airborne early warning; alternatively a Littoral Manoeuvre package could include a mix of RAF Chinooks, Army Apaches, Merlin HC4 and Wildcat HM2. Command and control of all four armed services (if you counted Royal Marines as independent) might be challenging. 

Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landings (SRVLS)

The F-35Bs will likely adopt shipborne rolling vertical landings (SRVLs) on the carrier's deck. With a rolling vertical landing the aircraft uses downward jet thrust to hover while it is still moving fast enough to also generate wing lift and on hitting the deck will rely on its computer controlled disc brakes

SRVLs may not require clearing as much of the deck as conventional fixed wing arrested landings. SRVLs will also enable the F-35B to land on the carrier with an increased weapon and fuel load compared to straight vertical. Straight vertical landings often meant jettisoning weapons and dumping almost all fuel. 

SRVLs can also reduce the level of wear on the lift engines and extend their operational life. However a number of defence analysts have suggested that operational SRVL landings may only be possible within a limited range of sea states and praying that the computer controlled breaks work.


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