Surpassing Goals of the Ford Aircraft Carrier Using UK Carriers

The main justification for the Gerald Ford Super aircraft carriers was to increase the sortie rate 25% over the Nimitz class and a 25% reduction in manpower required to operate. The Ford carriers are costing over $13 billion each and have numerous problems with landing and launching aircraft, elevators and radar.

The Nimitz Class has demonstrated a sustained sortie generation rate of 120 launches and recoveries over a twelve-hour flight day, sustaining that level of operation for thirty days.

These ships are intended to sustain 160 sorties per day for 30-plus days, with a surge capability of 270 sorties per day. Director of Operational Testing Michael Gilmore has criticized the assumptions used in these forecasts as unrealistic and has indicated sortie rates similar to the 120/240 per day of the Nimitz class would be acceptable.

The Nimitz class has a crew of 6012 and cost $8.5 billion.

The UK has built two HMS Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers for £6.5 billion. This is about $8.8 billion. The initial budget was £4,085m for two ships. The financial crisis led to a decision in December 2008 to slow production, delaying the first ship until May 2016 and the second by two years. This decision alone added £1,560m to the cost. Even with the cost overrun, the US could have three HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers for the price of one Gerald Ford Supercarrier.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier will support joint combat aircraft carrying out up to 420 sorties over five days and be able to conduct day and night time operations. The maximum sortie rate is 110 joint combat aircraft sorties in a 24-hour period.

Three carriers could launch 330 joint combat aircraft sorties in a 24-hour period.

The standard airgroup of 40 aircraft includes the Lockheed Martin F-35B joint strike fighter, the EH101 Merlin helicopter and the maritime surveillance and control aircraft (MASC).

The HMS Queen Elizabeth company is 679, rising to 1,600 when the aircrew is added.

Three carriers would have a crew of 4,800. This would be 20% less than one Nimitz.

SOURCES- wikipedia, youtube
Written By Brian Wang,

29 thoughts on “Surpassing Goals of the Ford Aircraft Carrier Using UK Carriers”

  1. The thing is though, the QE class is a modular design, and was designed from the beginning to work perfectly as either STOVL or a CATOBAR carrier. Refitting from The prior to the latter, which may be genuinely discussed when we get closer to the mid life refit in the UK, isn’t just “lets slap the catapults there, and the arresting wires here, jobs a good ‘un, lets go home for tea”. the refit from STOVL to CATOBAR would involve removing the straight flight deck and replacing it with an angled one (a rather straightforward task actually, again thanks to the QE class’ modular construction), and then adding the catapults and wires.

    The thing is though, if the US was to build a version of them under license, or just something similar, the modular design again comes back, because they can be extended, they can be widened. Just about any alteration can be made to the design of these things (within reason of course). The addition of the angled flight deck and associated machinery would already add another 10,000 tons of displacement, and if we employed permanent deck parking as the US does, even with STOVL configuration, I remember the number of embarked aircraft that was thrown around (by the captain at the time I think) was ~70 aircraft, although this would count as surge conditions and possibly reduce efficiency and sortie rates, as it does with current US super carriers.

  2. I think you’ve missed a small part of the point here. The refit wouldn’t just be “lets slap the catapults there, and the arresting wires here, jobs a good ‘un, lets go home for tea”. the reft from STOVL to CATOBAR would involve removing the straight flight deck and replacing it with an angled one (a rather straightforward task actually, thanks to the QE class’ modular construction), and then adding the catapults and wires. This a prospect that may be genuinely considered in a couple decades for the UK carriers if it is deemed a good idea/a worthwhile expense. Doing this would also add ~10,000 tons of displacement, bringing the size up very close to the current US super carriers. And David is right, these are not mini carriers. They are much larger and more effective at launching the f35 B than an America or Wasp class LHD. they were literally designed around the F35 (obviously this configuration was designed around the B variant), best way to store them, best way to get them from the hangar, Etc. These are not so much “budget carriers” as much as they are, pretty much, exactly what the UK currently needs from a carrier force.

  3. You are correct on the purpose of each tower. Rear most tower for air ops, forward most tower for sailing ops (believe that’s the right term). When the ship was in Halifax last year, it would have still been undergoing sea/flight trials, and may not have yet been certified for flight except for during tests (which I believe was the case), so it wouldn’t launched any at that time. By now it is fully certified, and is due for first operational deployment next year (2021).

    As for why we went with the 2 island design, I believe there are 3 reasons; Firstly, redundancy. if one islands is damaged beyond use, the flight ops team or sailing ops, can leave their damaged tower and undertake their duties from the other tower; secondly, layout. The QE and PoW carriers have 2 gas turbine engines, which both of course need exhausts, with each engine having an exhaust linked to one of the 2 island superstructures, if that makes sense; and lastly, for efficiency. It was basically found that having the sailing and fly-co operations in separate areas was more efficient, and it meant you can have an aircraft elevator between the 2 islands, which i believe also improves efficiency. Hope this helps 🙂

  4. If you prefer your paired QE carriers “analysis” with real numbers…
    F-35B: combat radius 500 nmi; max payload on full fuel, 14,000lb. F/A-18E: combat radius 390 nmi; max payload on full fuel, 19,000lb
    QE can sustain 33% more sorties per plane per day than the Nimitz, so total daily payload delivery per plane is equivalent and F-35B’s range on internal fuel is better.
    Both planes need refuelling for longer sorties. The V-22 VARS is already available for USMC F-35B. CATOBAR refuelling awaits development of MQ-25.
    F-35s don’t need Growlers, so Nimitz wins only on AEW: (E-2D costs $200m per unit incl spares/support, Merlin-Crowsnest costs $60m and that shows). However, the USMC put out an RFI for an AEW/ISR STOVL in 2018, so even that advantage is on the way out.
    One hit on the Nimitz arrestors halts operations. You can bomb the shit out of a QE flight deck; planes can still take off and land (and still have full operations on the second carrier). Take out one QE island and the two carriers will have three left. Nimitz, not so much.
    The five sovereign acres of Nimitz flight deck is divided big angled deck that has to be kept clear. The nine sovereign acres of flight deck on two QE carriers are unencumbered.
    On-station availability, operational cost, onward salability, places at once — the QEs keep on winning.
    So I think 2 QE class flying 72 F-35Bs easily beats one Nimitz flying 60 F/A-18s. Perhaps the Ford class will be better than 2 QEs, if so it won’t be by much.

  5. 1 billion for catapult addition. The military industrial complex is a military ripoff complex. FFS, get these contractors under control.

  6. @
    Some Japanese (much smaller carriers) of 1941 did 34 kts. The installation of a few more gas turbines for that kind fo speed costs relatively littel in space & moneyy compared to the overall effort of constructing a 40,000+ t carrier. Sprint speed is no reason for going nuclear. The carrier must not run ahead of its escorts anyway, and thsoe aren’t nuclear-powered.

    That’s rather untrue. You’re writing about the quantity of fuel carried, whereas the qty of required oilers is defined by consumption. The fuel required for propulsing a carrier is dwarfed by the consumption of the aircraft operations and the escorts because very large ships are very fuel-efficient.
    Moreover, oilers are dirt cheap by comparison, both in procurement and especially in operation.
    Again, the fuel resupply issue is not very different. The extreme procurement costsn of nuclear propulsion aren’t worth it.

  7. Know what’s cheaper? No ships, no aircraft, no personnel, no acquisition programs. The savings would be enormous and as realistic as this proposal.

    A US version of the Queen Elizabeth class carrier would have to have a catapult and by some estimates it would cost another $1 billion to include one. That would be two such ships for the cost of one supercarrier, putting the sorti rate too low. It would also mean transferring the EMALS issues to a different platform, and starting over in some ways, because there is no way the navy is giving up on the new catapult.

  8. Who cares how big the target is? Good luck getting an enemy air asset anywhere near that target. Good luck targeting that asset while it is at sea. Got a submarine? Good for you. Good luck going fast enough to try to keep up.

    It’s a big target but it is a *mobile* target and it is alarmingly fast operating in a very big environment surrounded by the most heavily guarded air space on the planet and, in wartime, the harshest EM environment. Good luck ever hitting it and, if an adversary were so foolish to ambush one during peacetime, God help that country because nobody else can.

  9. The “fuel resupply issue” is very different.
    Rather than have to get refueled periodically to keep her screws turning, the Carrier carries fuel for the rest of the Battlegroup. Thus they can go further & faster, while needing only half the number of Oilers (w/crews, pensions, medical care, maintenance, spare parts, etc).

  10. These are not in the same class as the QE2 carriers. They are 45kt ships, the QE2 ships are 64kt – nearly 50% bigger. The QE2 has more than 2x the power output than the America. They are not comparable.

  11. The original QE2 spec included the option for full catobar operation, including catapult. However BAE quoted a hideous cost to retrofit the catapult when the new government came in and wanted to switch the planes to F35C. The first ship was under construction at the time, so perhaps not a surprise. However my point remains that the ship is not a pocket carrier like its predecessors, but a very large carrier which if so specified, could be supplied for catobar operation. My point stands.

  12. They can’t operate catobar, If the arresting gear was installed they could land but not take off. They scrapped that idea with the design cost it entailed. So no his point still stands

  13. Sweet how is it going to launch the C model of the F-35 or the E3? Hell even if the QE had arresting gear doubt it could deal with one.

    This also ignores a lot of questions about how the weapon handling system will perform and questions on its time on missions. For instance the way the ship was designed to work over extended deployments

    This is the problem its a complicated issue and people just dont understand.

    The ford is a f&%king disaster because the people who built in the requirements ignored all past logic and reasoning and tested nothing. So we get….that.

    The QE class cannot do what we need. We would need a modernized Forrestal class.

    When a Navy uses only 1,600 people for 30 planes and another uses around 3000 for the 60-90 they plan to use there is a reason for them to be different find that one out.

  14. Exactly. The Kennedy is coming along a lot better, despite having funding restricted by Gates et al. We will need the new tech to support future transition to largely drone air wings. Particularly the launch and arresting systems.

  15. These are not mini carriers like the prior generation of British carriers, which were closer in size to large assault vessels. They are plenty big enough to operate conventional fighters like FA/18 or the F35C, and were designed to be convertible to catobar, but were initially configured for the F35B so that they could enter service carrying Harriers until the F35 was delivered. Unfortunately to cut government spending, the Harriers were retired early along with the old carriers, so the benefit of a smooth transition from old to new carriers and aircraft was lost. Very short sighted.

  16. Yep. There you are. Buy British. I’d rather buy American, given spending of American taxpayer dollars on the adventure. The new Ford Super class is having its teething issues. The second one will have 10% as many (i.e. ‘90% less’).  The third, 25% as many as that, the fourth 20% as many in turn.  

    Lets say there are — today — 20 major, 100 sustainable and 1,000 pesky problems with the Super Ford.  

    20 × 0.1 = 2 … × 0.25 = ½ … × 0.2 = 0.1 major problems, i.e. “none”
    100 × 0.1 = 10 … × 0.25 = 2.5 … × 0.2 = 0.5 sustainable problems, i.e. “one or none”
    1,000 × 0.1 = 100 … × 0.25 = 25 … × 0.2 = 5 pesky problems, i.e. “normal, at launch”

    Meanwhile, we get a REALLY BIG carrier, capable of handling 250+ launches-and-landings a 24 hour day; we get a carrier with enough fuel to keep the birds in the air perhaps a few weeks between fuel transfers.  Its not using up any of the jet fuel for its own operations. That’s why NUCLEAR makes sense.  

    Let’s keep on with the American-made fleet. Less likely also that crypto-jïhadi’s have imbedded bad-âhss software waiting to scuttle a mission down the pike.  

    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  17. Brian, those mini-carriers can’t launch conventional aircraft like the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, or the F-35C. They can only launch STOVL birds like the F-35B, which have extremely limited range and payload.

  18. I was out in the bay at Halifax in September and had the opportunity to get a pretty close look at the Queen Elizabeth (the first of the two new British carriers).

    It certainly looked impressive but I don’t believe I ever saw it launch a plane.

    The two separate towers, presumably one for air ops and one for ship controln was a new one for me, although I’m not sure why they did it that way.

  19. Enough with comparing two systems solely on one parameter convenient for a certain argument.

    “Its main advantage is that it accelerates aircraft more smoothly, putting less stress on their airframes. Compared to steam catapults, the EMALS also weighs less, is expected to cost less and require less maintenance, and can launch both heavier and lighter aircraft than a steam piston-driven system. It also reduces the carrier’s requirement of fresh water, thus reducing the demand for energy-intensive desalination.”,a%20steam%20piston%2Ddriven%20system.

  20. Yes they do. Nuclear powered carriers can do >30 knots (rumored 35) which makes it enormously difficult for an enemy sub to keep up (and if they do they’ll be noisy as hell)

  21. The aircraft are not nuclear-powered, so the fuel resupply issue is not very different.
    The surface escorts are not nuclear-powered, so a transoceanic deployment cruise would be no faster than 23 kts, and very likely slower than very large container ships’ cruise speed.
    The benefits of nuclear propulsion in surface warships do not justify the costs.

  22. The glaringly obvious flaw in this assessment in this “analysis” is that planes launched from CATOBAR carriers can carry significantly more munitions and fuel. Sortie rate isn’t worth much when the planes can only fly 200 miles or so, drop a single bomb, and then have to return to the carrier. When you actually do the math (payload, fuel load, sortie rate, etc) you need 6-8 “helicopter” carriers to equal the firepower of a single CATOBAR carrier.

  23. Sounds to me like they don’t surpass anything at all. Non-nuclear, lower sortie rate, etc. They’re cheaper so you could have many more, but since they’re not nuclear powered you’d need to bring them into port far more often, so you’d need even more to fill the gaps.

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