The Royal Navy’s largest ever commissioned ship is launched ready for sea trials in June 2017. The Queen Elizabeth Aircraft carrier is over three times larger than the class it replaces the invincible class and has absorbed £6bn ($7.6bn) worth of investment and has taken around 10 years to come to fruition. There are a number of questions that surround the project however and in particular the military procurement process in the UK in general. There are concerns that there will not be enough crew ready to operate her, the ordered fighters for her decks are too expensive and weak, the design itself is flawed and that there will not be enough navy ships to protect her. What is more, there is another Queen Elizabeth class ship coming in 2019 (The Prince of Wales) and any problems seen on the Queen Elizabeth will be replicated on that ship too. What is of equal concern is that some defense analysts see the aircraft carrier as slowly becoming obsolete as a military concept, due to advanced missile systems and the changing nature of warfare in general.
Aircraft carriers have been the dominant naval ship type since the end of the Second World War, when Battleships were slowly replaced and decommissioned by navies that had a better weapon to fulfill the same role. As such they have been a status symbol of the world’s wealthiest countries as the ability to operate aircraft carriers allowed them to project their military and political power across the globe moving a piece of sovereign territory to war zones and political hotspots.
Around six nations have aircraft carriers that are a credible threat to land based defenses. These Queen Elizabeth Class Ships effectively transport the UK up the rankings with some of the most available to any country. All countries however pale in comparison to the capacity of the United States which maintains 10 super class carriers of 100,000-ton displacement and nuclear reactor propulsion.
The project for the Queen Elizabeth Class ships has been far from free of criticism. These are enormously expensive ships and the project overran its price estimation by close to double (£6.2 billion ($7.9bn), up from the £3.5 billion ($4.4bn) projected in 2007). For that money only two ships have been obtained and that does not count the order for the F-35bs needed for each ship which will cost around $100m per aircraft and 26 minimum will be needed for each ship.
The Royal Navy has in numerous parliamentary hearings, been shown to not have anywhere near enough modern and reliable ships for its commitments currently, let alone with two of the largest air craft carriers in the world to defend. On operations, a carrier may only have four destroyers available to protect it along with a handful of frigates which is considered very weak indeed.
In a time where global hacking and cyber warfare are becoming increasingly common as a tactic used not just by terrorists and criminals, but also tools of nation states themselves. Older systems that do not have update support have been identified as one of the key targets for hackers and the Queen Elizabeth Class has been under scrutiny because it was revealed that it is running windows XP computer systems.