The Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers would move from STOVL to STOL then to STOBAR and then to CATOBAR.
The Royal Navy would like to retrofit arrestor gear and assisted launch equipment as part of a broader Future Maritime Aviation Force (FMAF) vision, Colonel Phil Kelly, Head of Carrier Strike and Maritime Aviation within the Royal Navy’s Develop Directorate, revealed at the Defence Leaders’ ‘Combined Naval Event 2023’ conference in Farnborough on May 24, 2023.
According to Naval News, FMAF is a multi-strand programme exploring the widespread fielding of uncrewed aviation across the surface fleet, with a specific focus on future carrier aviation.
No assisted launch or arrestment machinery is installed on the current Queen Elizabeth-class (QEC) flight deck. The QEC in fact features a 12.5o ski-ramp fitted forward and a vertical recovery deck offset to port that has been shaped by the operation and support of a single fixed-wing aircraft type, the F-35B Lightning II short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) strike fighter.
“Project Ark Royal,” as FMAF is called, is aimed to explore options for the phased introduction of aircraft launch and recovery equipment to enable the operation of high performance uncrewed strike and support systems, and potentially fixed-wing crewed aircraft, like F/A-18E/F, F-35C and Rafale, Col Kelly explained.
“We are looking to move from STOVL to STOL [short takeoff and landing], then to STOBAR [short takeoff but arrested recovery] and then to CATOBAR [catapult assisted takeoff but arrested recovery]. We are looking at a demonstrable progression that spreads out the financial cost and incrementally improves capability.”
According to Kelly increasing the available length for the unassisted launch of uncrewed air systems will be the first step of Project Ark Royal, with the first launch of a Mojave STOL aircraft off the angle of the flight deck from the carrier off the US east coast planned in November.
The next stage would be to introduce a recovery system into the QEC design and the final step would be to add an assisted launch system.
According to Naval News the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arrestor Gear (AAG) built by General Atomics and used on US Navy Ford-class aircraft carriers and the UK’s own Electro Magnetic Kinetic Induction Technology demonstrator developed by GE Power Conversion are the options under review for Project Ark Royal.
Both Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are the largest and most powerful vessel ever constructed for the Royal Navy.
The ships are capable of embarking 36 F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and four Merlin Helicopters. Four fighter jets can be moved from the hangar to the flight deck in one minute.
The ships’ two propellers weigh 33 tonnes each. The powerplant behind them generates enough power to run 1000 family cars.
Their flight decks are 70 metres wide and 280 metres long – enough space for three football pitches – and they hold 45 days’ worth of food in stores.
They have a crew complement of around 1,600 when the aircraft are onboard.
Photo credit: Capt. Jim McCall / U.S. Navy