Advancing UK maritime aviation in the Queen Elizabeth-class era

This report from the UK think tank IISS considers the opportunities and challenges that the carrier era presents in a number of key areas.

The United Kingdom is on the cusp of regenerating what is a transformational capability. The first of the UK’s new-generation aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, has been at sea on trials for two years, and is working up towards its first operational deployment in 2021. The second ship, HMS Prince of Wales, is scheduled to be accepted into service before the end of the year. The F-35B Lightning II has achieved initial land-based operating capability and the Lightning Force has carried out its first overseas deployment, Lightning Dawn. Maritime aviation in the round has undergone a significant transformation, and there has been a substantial increased focus on collaboration and partnering with industry as well as developing stronger links with critical allies. To underscore the significance of the undertaking, then secretary of state for defence Penny Mordaunt announced on 15 May 2019 that the UK planned to produce a National Aircraft Carrier Policy to lay down a blueprint for how the new carrier era would help deliver the UK’s global objectives.

In addition, on 4 June, then prime minister Theresa May announced that the UK would earmark the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers to form part of NATO’s significant new Readiness Initiative. These developments have prompted thought and discussion on the extent to which the carrier programme will enable and actually drive the transformation of UK joint-force capabilities, and are posing questions about the demands such a programme will place on UK defence and industry. This paper considers both the opportunities and challenges that the carrier era presents in a number of key areas: national ambition creating a joint force that is international by design rapid capability development the underwater battlespace inter-service interoperability readiness and sustainability

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