The first of the Royal Navy’s new-generation aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, has begun sea trials. The second ship, HMS Prince of Wales, is not far behind. At 65,000 tonnes, they are the largest Royal Navy warships ever. While even an initial operating capability with fixed-wing aircraft is still at least three years away, the United Kingdom is on the verge of regenerating a carrier strike capability, with the associated F-35B Joint Strike Fighter programme, which could be transformational for UK defence. However, there are still significant challenges to delivering on that potential, and the programme is coming to fruition at a time of extreme pressure on UK defence resources, which has again stirred controversy over the scale and ambition of the carrier programme.
This is already a two-decade project. When it was given the green light in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, it was a deliberate decision to step back up the strategic ladder of maritime-based power projection from the then current generation of smaller Invincible-class aircraft carriers. The new ships could offer UK defence and security policymakers capabilities and options on a scale and of a kind they have not had at their disposal for four decades – more than a generation. Our discussion will focus on the implications of that, but also on the fact that the strategic backdrop and the size and shape of the UK armed forces have changed dramatically since 1998.
The maritime domain is much more challenging than it has been for decades for naval forces as a whole, but for aircraft carrier operations in particular. And yet a small but significant club of key global navies continues to invest in aircraft carriers because they see them as offering a unique strategic capability.
Please join us for this breakfast briefing on all these issues, which will be led by our senior naval and maritime security specialist.
This is an off-the-record discussion and by invitation only. If you are unable to attend and would like to suggest somebody from your organisation to do so, please do let us know by emailing the suggested name to [email protected].
Please join us for tea, coffee and pastries from 8am.
Nick Childs is responsible for the Institute's analysis of naval forces and maritime security, and for the data on sea power capabilities published in the flagship annual The Military Balance. It is also his job to formulate and deliver research projects in these areas, and contribute to other Institute publications and activities, including conferences and consultancy.