Future of the Queen Elizabeth Class in an Era of Defense Cuts
The Queen Elizabeth class carriers are expected to arrive in 2020 beginning with the namesake of the class herself, HMS Queen Elizabeth. She will replace the last of the Invincible class carriers still in operation - HMS Illustrious - and provide the Royal Navy with a striking power the likes of which it has not possessed since 1979.
It is likely that the carrier will be employed in conjunction with US and NATO vessels abroad in roles akin to those currently filled by the US carrier fleet and the French carrier Charles De Gaulle. This means that in any future operation similar to that being waged against the Libyan regime in 2011 or the one launched against Iraq in 2003 could feature the HMS Queen Elizabeth in a key role.
The fate of the HMS Prince of Wales, however, is less clear. Because of the major budget cuts required of the British military in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, it was determined that the second of the new British aircraft carriers would be kept in a status of "readiness". Potentially the HMS Prince of Wales would languish without catapult systems installed or potentially even be sold off. Britain would retain only a single carrier for contingency operations, meaning that its availability would be limited. While very possibly a necessary budgetary measure it makes it appear that Britain maintains a carrier fleet more out of national pride than out of any particular strategic logic.
But a lot can happen in ten years, and budgets or an emerging naval threat may lead to the Queen Elizabeth class carriers sailing side by side into the Atlantic. No matter their final disposition, they are the cutting edge of British carrier technology and carry on the near century long legacy of Royal Navy innovations in aircraft carriers and naval aviation.
1998 UK Strategic Defense Review
2010 UK Strategic Defense and Security Review
A Wordsworth Colour Guide Modern Warships; 1993 Wordswordh Editions LTD
Images: Courtesy of US Navy, Odessa3, US Navy, and Robert Baker of the US Navy respectively.