Sea vessels

Queen Elizabeth-Class Aircraft Carriers Key In 'Age Of Persistent Competition'

The report's author suggests HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales must be used for shorter and sharper attacks than in the past.

The Royal Navy's Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers could be key to coping with an increasingly unstable future operational environment, a new report has suggested.

The study, carried out by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), says the UK must adapt to using the carriers against more powerful enemies than those seen during conflicts in the 1990s and 2000s.

It concludes that while HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are "high evolvable" platforms, their flexibility must be exploited in order to "secure UK interests in an age of persistent competition".

Report author, Dr Sidharth Kaushal said the carriers are ideal for a new operational environment but must be used for shorter and sharper attacks than in the past.

"Instead of effectively operating for multiple weeks on end, air wings and their crews perform higher intensity operations with more sorties in a given time frame," he said.

"But for a shorter overall time, essentially delivering pulses of force against discretely defined targets."

With potential enemies, such as China, growing their naval capacity, western powers are no longer able to assume dominance of the seas they may have relied on previously.

HMS Queen Elizabeth returns to Portsmouth with tugs 151020 CREDIT BFBS
The £3.2bn carrier is the largest and most powerful vessel ever constructed by the Royal Navy.

Admiral Lord West, First Sea Lord from 2002 to 2006, said such adversaries far exceed the capabilities of terrorist groups or minor states and “immediately raises the level of threat to your force quite dramatically".

However, he also said the report outlined the "amazing flexibility of the carrier". 

"You've got this four-and-a-half acres of British airfield that can move 500 miles a day, in any direction without let or hindrance," he said.

"The weapons system in a carrier is its air group, now the air group could be 200 drones, little drones, or 50 huge drones, or the F-35 air group or just helicopters. 

"The flexibility is immense."

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

While recently confirming an extra £16.5 billion for defence over the next four years, the Prime Minister highlighted the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers as part of his future vision for the Royal Navy.

"Once both of our carriers are operational ​in 2023, the UK will have a carrier strike group permanently available, routinely deployed globally, and always ready to fight alongside NATO and other allies," Boris Johnson said.

"Next year, Queen Elizabeth will lead a British and allied task group on our most ambitious deployment for two decades, encompassing the Mediterranean, the Indian ocean, and East Asia," he added.