The aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is seen on June 17 in Rosyth, Scotland. The lead ship of the Queen Elizabeth-class will be officially named by her namesake on July 4. (Matt Cardy / Getty Images)
LONDON — Britain is set to launch its first new aircraft carrier in more than 30 years when the queen officially names the warship Queen Elizabeth at a July 4 ceremony at Rosyth dockyard, Scotland.
Technically it’s not a launch but a flood up of the dock where the 65,000-ton warship has been assembled from modules built by maritime construction companies from around Britain.
Queen Elizabeth is the first of two carriers being built for the Royal Navy in a program targeted to cost £6.2 billion (US $10.5 billion), having started at £3.8 billion.
When the first warship becomes fully operational in 2020, it will restore a Royal Navy carrier strike capability axed in the Conservative-led coalition government’s 2010 strategic defense and security review (SDSR).
Along with budget-inspired cuts to the frigate and destroyer fleets, axing the Harrier jet and the 1980s-built light aircraft carriers they operated from has left the Royal Navy underpowered. Still, the jury remains out on whether the Navy will operate both carriers.
The 2015 SDSR is meant to decide whether one of the warships will be mothballed, sold or operated alongside its sister ship to give the Navy a 365-day-a-year carrier capability.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has favored spending the additional £70 million or so he said is required to keep both ships ready for operation. But with further defense budget cuts possible beyond 2015 and serious strains on Royal Navy personnel numbers, it’s far from a slam dunk for naval aviation.
Still, many in the defense sector here are just pleased to have reached the naming ceremony of the first carrier with the program in seemingly good shape. It’s not for want of trying that the build effort hasn’t been knocked too far off course.
Between them, the then-Labour administration and the current government have delayed the program by two years, tried to cancel it and changed their minds twice over the type of F-35 they wanted to operate.
On the industry side, the Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA) of BAE Systems, Babcock, Thales UK and the Ministry of Defence, which was pulled together to manage the program, has been a partial success.
A senior executive here said the teaming arrangement has “worked well and stopped industry squabbling amongst themselves, [but] it has done little to rein in costs.”
Paul Rafferty, the ACA project management director, defended the partnership, telling reporters “without it the project would have had a significantly different outcome.”
Just days after the naming ceremony, the carrier will be floated to another part of the Babcock-owned yard to be fitted out and work will start assembling the Prince of Wales.
The first of class is expected to begin sea trials in August 2016 and be accepted by the Navy in May 2017.
The Prince of Wales should be structurally complete in July 2016, start sea trials in January 2019 and be accepted later that year. ■