Sea vessels

Navy's Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers explained

HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are expected to serve well into the 21st century.

The UK's Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers are the largest and most powerful ever built for the Royal Navy.

HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy's fleet flagship, and HMS Prince of Wales are expected to be at the forefront of the UK's sea operations for the next 50 years.

Both carriers cost a total of more than £6bn to build, each weighs about 65,000 tonnes, has a top speed of 25 knots, is capable of carrying up to 72 aircraft and has a maximum capacity of 36 F-35B fighter jets.

However, is likely only one Queen Elizabeth-class vessel will be deployed at once and with up to 24 F-35Bs on an aircraft carrier at one time.

The carriers could have a crew of about 700 on board, increasing to 1,600 when a full complement of F-35B jets and Crowsnest helicopters are embarked.

Both ships come fitted with state-of-the-art equipment, have a range of 10,000 nautical miles and a radar system capable of tracking 1,000 moving targets up to 400km away.

Another key component of the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers is the cutting-edge weapons handling system.

The new system can move weapons and equipment to the flight deck six times faster, with the number of crew required to operate the system down from 160 to 48.

Watch: In 2019, we went on board HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The separation and distribution of power generation machinery on the carriers also improves the survivability of the ship, while the electric propulsion system means they can operate with more efficiency, reducing both fuel consumption and running costs.

Both QE-class carriers come with a highly integrated mission system capable of supporting multiple aircraft operations and task force group command tasks.

And the carriers are versatile enough to carry out numerous missions – from supporting war efforts to providing aid and disaster relief.

HMS Prince of Wales was commissioned into the Royal Navy in 2019, and opened to the public for the first time when visiting her affiliated city of Liverpool.

It was confirmed in March 2021 the aircraft carrier would be ready to return to operations by May of this year, after undergoing repairs costing an estimated £3.3m following a flood in an engine room.

An investigation was launched after the leak, which was caused by an "internal system" issue.

Captain Darren Houston is the Commanding Officer of HMS Prince of Wales.

Previously, he joined HMS Queen Elizabeth as Commander, helping guide the ship through contractor sea trials and her first deployment to the US.

HMS Queen Elizabeth formed a UK Carrier Strike Group for the first time while taking part in NATO's Exercise Joint Warrior (Picture: Royal Navy).

HMS Queen Elizabeth's Commanding Officer is Captain Angus Essenhigh OBE, who is the fourth commanding officer of the carrier.

He had previously been in command of HMS Daring, which saw him awarded an OBE for humanitarian assistance provided to the Philippines, and HMS Protector.

Later this year, HMS Queen Elizabeth will lead the UK's Carrier Strike Group after she was declared ready for operations.

In October, HMS Queen Elizabeth formed a UK Carrier Strike Group for the first time while taking part in NATO's Exercise Joint Warrior.

The UK's Carrier Strike Group, spearheaded by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, is nearing its maiden operational deployment after it was declared ready for operations in January.

The group will travel more than 20,000 nautical miles from the North Atlantic, through to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and on to the Indo-Pacific on its first operation.

Nine ships are deploying as part of the Carrier Strike Group, including HMS Defender, HMS Diamond, HMS Kent and HMS Richmond.

Two NATO allies are supporting the deployment, with American destroyer USS The Sullivans and Dutch ship HNLMS Evertsen making up the Carrier Strike Group.

Cover image: HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, come together in their home port of Portsmouth for the first time (Picture: Royal Navy).