Young pilot makes history with first deck landing on HMS Queen Elizabeth

A Merlin helicopter lands on HMS Queen Elizabeth’s enormous flight deck – the first aircraft to ever touch down on Britain’s biggest warship.

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The Queen sets sail

HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier

It has been one of the most ambitious naval projects in British history and last night the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, was finally launched last night. In order to head out, the giant aircraft carrier had to wait for the right tide to pass under the Forth Bridge. It is estimated that there was barely 20 inches between the aircraft carrier and the bottom as it passed under the bridge. The ship was supported by a flotilla of 11 tugboats to help the ship navigate its way out of the dockyard.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon commented;

This is a historic moment for the UK as our new aircraft carrier takes to sea for the very first time. This floating fortress is by far the most powerful ship ever built in Britain that will enable us to tackle multiple and changing threats across the globe.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is an enduring example of British imagination, ingenuity, invention that will help keep us safe for decades to come. She is built by the best, crewed by the best and will deliver for Britain.

For the next 50 years she will deploy around the world, demonstrating British power and our commitment to confronting the emerging challenges from a dangerous world. The whole country can be proud of this national achievement.

Commanding officer Captain Jerry Kydd said of his ship;

I think there are very few capabilities, by any country, that are as symbolic as a carrier strike capability…Submarines you can’t see, but these are very visible symbols of power and power projection.

The launch has been unfortunately marred by reports in the media that the vessel’s systems still run on Windows XP which following the cyber attack on the NHS – who operated similar software – earlier this year has led to questions over whether the ship is vulnerable to cyber attack. Navy chiefs have denied that there is a risk and that protective measures have been taken.

 

700 crew take up residence aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth

HMS Queen Elizabeth

After months of familiarisation and training, the ships company of HMS Queen Elizabeth can finally call the ambitious aircraft carrier home. 700 of the ship’s crew have taken up residence aboard the vessel which will become the Royal Navy’s future flagship and the epitome of Britain’s continued commitment to influencing world events.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is now in the advanced stages of her test and commissioning phase which will include her maiden sea trials scheduled to take place this summer. During this period the 65,000 ton aircraft carrier is expected to undertake “simple” air operations involving helicopters such as the Wildcat and Merlin.

HMS Queen Elizabeth UK F-35 Lightning IIThe first operations involving the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II will not take place until the summer of 2018. Even then it will likely consist of a number of United States Marine Corps aircraft and crews until the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force comes up to strength on the type. Given the present acquisition rate, the UK will be able to deploy 24 of the maximum number of 40 F-35Bs onboard the ship some time in 2023 according to the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Jerry Kyd.

However, the whole carrier project continues to draw worried glances from observers regarding manpower shortages within the Royal Navy. This emerged in the wake of a savage cutting of over 4,000 personnel in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. The Royal Navy has engaged in a recruitment drive in recent months to address the problem with some success but the concern is that putting the aircraft carrier to sea will result in other ships being confined to port. In 2015, there were rumours that the navy was even considering advertising for personnel in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

According to the Admiralty, the vessel is planned to sail to her future home base of Portsmouth by the end of the year.

 

 

Fleet Air Arm Merlins deploy aboard French assault ship

Royal Navy MerlinWhile the UK and French governments continue to mince words regarding the Brexit negotiations, for their respective military forces working together it seems its business as usual. The French Navy amphibious assault ship FS Mistral left Toulon earlier this week to begin the service’s anuual five month Jeanne d’Arc deployment. Joining the ship’s air wing of transport helicopters were two Royal Navy Merlin HC.3A helicopters of the Fleet Air Arm’s No.845 Naval Air Squadron. The British contingent includes up to sixty personnel to operate and maintain the aircraft in support of French forces during the deployment.

Speaking on the deployment, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said:

France is one of our closest allies and our world class maritime forces are combining to show we can operate together effectively. Whether deployed together at sea, striking Daesh from the air, or contributing to NATO deployments in the Baltics, Britain and France will continue to work hard for our shared security.

Other aircraft deployed aboard the Mistral include a French Navy Dauphin to provide SAR and light utility duties and two French Army Gazelle light observation helicopters. Ground forces onboard will include the French Army’s Embedded Tactical Group. The deployment will take the force to Japan, Guam, Vietnam, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Australia. Barring the vessel is not called to respond to a major incident, the FS Mitsral is expected cover some 24,000 miles.

As well as exercising France’s foreign policies the deployment will provide intensive training for those onboard with the French Navy outlining;

The Jeanne d’Arc mission also integrates elements from other armies and services. Among them were Saint-Cyrians, doctors from the army health service, commissioners of the Armed Forces Commissariat, pupils of the Directorate-General for Armaments and pupils administrators of maritime affairs. A plurality which gives this mission a significant and formative joint dimension for all these young future cadres.

It is within this operational framework that 137 French and foreign pupil officers of the promotion EAOM 2017 make their first operational deployment of long duration.

Kuznetsov battle group heading back towards western Europe

admiral-kuznetsov-aircraft-carrier-russian-navyThe Russian Navy’s aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, has begun its journey back to its base at Severomorsk having concluded air operations over Syria in support President Assad’s government forces. Between November and December 2016 the carrier’s air group conducted over 400 sorties over Syria alongside Russian Air Force aircraft flying from land bases but lost two aircraft in accidents. As well as air strikes, the accompanying warships that made up the carrier group also conducted powerful cruise missile strikes in November in the form of Kalibr missiles launched from the frigate Admiral Grigorovich.

Speaking to Russian news service RT.com the commander of the Russian forces in Syria, Col. Gen. Andrey Kartapolov, praised the involvement of the carrier stating,

All combat tasks assigned to the aircraft carrier group have been accomplished

Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan (D37) at West India Dock May 2016The carrier group’s return journey to its base in Severomorsk will likely mirror its journey to the war zone in October which will see the Russian ships transiting through the English Channel as they head toward the northerly base from the Mediterranean. During its journey south the carrier was the focus of intense NATO activity with the Royal Navy assigning two warships – the Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan (right) and Type 23 frigate HMS Richmond – to escort the group through the UK’s area of interest. The RAF also conducted an intelligence gathering effort aimed at the battle group involving the RC-135W Rivet Joint electronic intelligence gathering aircraft. It is likely that a similar operation will be mounted on the group’s return journey.

The deployment of the carrier to Syria has given observers a chance to assess its combat effectiveness which despite the fanfare by Russian media has been judged as being of minimal importance in the conflict by western analysts. The carrier’s air wing conducted only a small fraction of the estimated 19,000 sorties Russian aircraft have made over Syria and the Sukhoi Su-33s and Mikoyan MiG-29Ks it carries did not offer any advantage over the Russian Air Force’s aircraft deployed in-theatre. Additionally, the loss of an Su-33 during a landing accident in December saw the air wing flown to land bases in order to continue their operations while repairs were conducted to the arresting gear used to recover the fast jets.

On the other hand, despite the carrier’s reputation for mechanical breakdowns and being unsuited to real combat operations, the Russians have proven – to their credit – that the Admiral Kuznetsov can deploy far from its home port and project Russian air power. Having done it once they can certainly do so again.

 

China warns UK about sending new carriers to the South China Sea

HMS QE 8The Chinese government have responded to Sir Kim Darroch’s claims that the UK plans to deploy its new aircraft carriers to the South China Sea to exercise the right to “freedom of navigation” despite renewed Chinese territorial claims. Darroch, the British ambassador to the United States, made the announcement earlier this month when speaking at an event in Washington during which he said;

Certainly, as we bring our two new aircraft carriers on stream in 2020 and as we renew and update our defence forces, they will be seen in the Pacific…And we absolutely share the objective of this U.S. administration, and the next one, to protect freedom of navigation and to keep sea routes and air routes open.

Darroch made the announcement as the Royal Air Force sent a flight of Typhoon FGR.4s to Japan for historic military exercises as part of what both countries have said is a tightening of security ties. Japan is one of several countries at odds with China over territorial claims in the region and the UK’s new interest in working closer with Tokyo on security matters has not gone unnoticed by Beijing.

The Chinese state-owned news agency, Xinhua News, reported that if Britain was to get more involved in military operations that were contrary to Chinese interests such as deliberately sailing warships in disputed waters then it would not be in London’s best interests economically. Xinhua effectively reported that Chinese investment in the post-Brexit UK would likely be reduced in protest. According to the Asia Times, between 2005  and 2015 the Chinese invested £34.3 billion pounds in the UK with the highest profile project being the admittedly problematic China General Nuclear Power Company Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

peoples-liberation-army-navy-air-force-china-j-15-liaoning-carrierIf economical threats were not enough, this week saw the People’s Liberation Army Navy conduct their first major live fire exercise involving their own carrier, the Liaoning. The carrier deployed ten of its Sukhoi Su-33-inspired J-15 multi-role combat aircraft that carried out air-to-air and air-to-ground training including live weaponry. As well as the carrier, ten warships and supporting vessels also participated in the exercise showing that China is realising its ambition of becoming a major naval power.

The question therefore becomes what is more important to London; maintaining the special military relationship with the US under a Trump presidency which has promised to maintain “peace through strength” regarding China or encouraging Beijing to continue to invest in the UK post-Brexit and step back from its defence ties with the US and Japan?

It seems for the time being, despite Darroch’s choice of words in Washington, the UK is still sitting on the fence. The British embassy in Washington later stated that any British military forces deployed in the region would use “internationally-recognised air ways and waters” rather than conduct the more aggressive “freedom of navigation” operations the US and Japan carry out in areas disputed by China. That may change however if come January when Donald Trump takes office he demands London take a stronger approach to China.