The HMS Queen Elizabeth
American astronaut Eugene Andrew Cernan may be famous for being the last man on the moon, but before his days in space, he was a U.S. navy captain. He’s less well known as the man that successfully landed planes on aircraft carriers 200 times, a dream of his ever since he first saw aircraft taking off from those giants of the ocean. Since the introduction of such capital ships in the early 20th century, they’ve become an integral part of any country’s military machine.
The problem is building the behemoths, which comes at great expense. In fact, aircraft carriers and supercarriers are the most expensive military vehicles ever made – one reason why very few countries have them. But two wealthy allied countries do, and today we are going to compare their very best aircraft carriers, in this episode of the Infographics Show, USS Gerald R Ford vs HMS Queen Elizabeth.
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Which countries have aircraft carriers?
First of all let’s have a look at which countries own these floating islands. We should also point out that the largest of these vessels are called supercarriers. The ships have a huge strategic advantage in times of battle as they are virtually a military unto themselves. With no need for a base, the carriers can take thousands of crew, scores of aircraft, highly destructive weapons, and all kinds of other equipment.
As a British navy officer once said, “To put it simply, countries that aspire to strategic international influence have aircraft carriers.” The United States has the most carriers in service with 11, and also two more under construction. Italy has two in service, and Canada, China, France, India, Russia, Spain and Thailand each have one. A handful of other countries are currently building aircraft carriers, but only a few have made the heavy investment in the giant supercarrier. China will have two in the very near future; the UK will also have two, while India and Russia should have a supercarrier in the more distant future.
How does it compare to the USS Gerald Ford
The most recent of these supercarriers to hit the high seas is the UK’s HMS Queen Elizabeth. The UK media reported in August that this 65,000-ton ship was met by tens of thousands of Brits RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT when it berthed at its home in Portsmouth for the very first time.
The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, said the fact such a feat of engineering was up and running represented a determination from the UK to remain a global power. “We are determined to remain a fully engaged global power, working closely with our friends and allies around the world,” said May. The main ally of the UK is the U.S., and with so many supercarriers to its name, maybe it doesn’t need much help. But how does the U.S.’s prize carrier compare to the UK’s?
Cost of the Aircraft Carriers
Let’s look at costs first. Sources says that the most expensive military vehicle ever created in the history of mankind is the USA’s USS Gerald Ford. The total cost was around $13 billion. It’s also thought a further 4.7 billion has been spent on research and development. It too was just formally commissioned this year, by President Donald Trump, on July 22nd. The British ship cost quite a bit less at around 3.8 billion dollars, although reports don’t state how much has been spent on R&D. So, why does one ship cost so much more than the other?
Well, the Queen Elizabeth has a displacement of 65,000 tons and is 900 feet in length. The Ford Class is the bigger ship with a displacement of 100,000 tons and a length of almost 1,110 feet. It’s a little larger, and is also significantly improved in terms of how many aircraft it can carry when compared to the older Nimitz class. In terms of what’s under the hood, the Queen Elizabeth will have two Rolls-Royce Trent MT 30 gas turbines, each generating 48,000 horse power. This will give the ship a top speed of around 25 knots or 28.7 miles per hour.
The Ford Class will be powered by two A1B nuclear reactors and will have a top speed of around 30.4 knots or 35 miles per hour. One thing we should also point out is that this kind of nuclear power, it’s hoped, will power heavy weapons over an extended period of time. The Ford Class will carry a crew of approximately 2,600, while the Queen Elizabeth is expected to carry a full crew of around 1,600. Both ships can carry more, but less is better considering possible loss of life. One of the reasons for requiring fewer crew is advanced onboard automation, and also technology that makes it easier to put aircraft in the sky.
As we can see, the Ford Class’s major expense is largely due to size. But something else added to the extreme cost, and that had to do with the aircraft it carries. Before we come to that, let’s look at what each carrier has on board. Both are expected to carry the U.S’s stealth multirole jet fighter, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. The Ford Class can carry more, though, with a limit of about 75 aircraft.
This will include two squadrons of around ten or twelve F-35Cs, two squadrons of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, five EA-18G Growler electronic attack jets, four defensive E-2D Hawkeyes, as well as two C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery planes. It will also have eight MH-60S Seahawk helicopters and some unmanned helicopters. According to British defense media, the Queen Elizabeth full air wing will consist of F-35B Lightning IIs as well as helicopters including Chinooks, Apache AH64s, Merlin HM2s and HC4s, and Wildcat AH1s and HMA2s.
Why is the USS Gerald Ford so expensive?
Part of the extra cost of the Ford Class is down to how some of the aircraft decelerate and land, which will involve using something called Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG). It’s yet to be proven, though, which has become a point of controversy. President Donald Trump famously criticized it as being a waste of money.
He was quoted as saying, “You are going to use goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it’s no good.” According to a recent Bloomberg story, the Ford Class still has problems with launching and catching aircraft, while the British ship has no such problems as it uses older and proven arresting wires, as well as a ski jump for take-off.
Battle of the radars
Not surprisingly both ships believe they have the superior radar systems, with the Brits saying their Type 997 Artisan 3D medium range radar has “unrivalled detection performance and world beating electronic protection measures.” National Interest reports that the Ford’s Dual Band Radar is also the most modern system of its kind in the world today when it comes to detecting aircraft and missiles.
But what if they do get hit? While they are made of tough material, if a large missile hits these expensive ships they will have huge problems. That’s why they are protected with the latest detection systems as well as frigates and destroyers at their side. In 2017 the Telegraph in Britain reported that the Queen Elizabeth is not protected enough and runs the risk of being a billions of dollars wreck resting on the seabed.
This is why aircraft carriers are well protected in terms of arms. The Ford Class will carry two Mk. 29 missile launchers, two Rolling Airframe Missile launchers, and four Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems. It’s also said that at some point it will mount nuclear powered laser self-defense weapons. The Queen Elizabeth will have as its defense Phalanx close in weapons systems, as well as guns and mini-guns. Perhaps the Telegraph report was right and the Queen Elizabeth needs to pack a little more punch. But it’s worth noting that it was built to protect as much as attack.
One more thing, the U.S. ship seems to have embraced diversity. It won’t have urinals, and all bathrooms will be gender neutral. We are not saying the Queen Elizabeth doesn’t have a similar set-up, only the British have kept mum regarding how their crew will be taking a pee. If things get out of hand on the Queen Elizabeth, it comes equipped with a police station and cells, which is quite a unique added extra. When times are good, this home away from home will also offer tasty treats from its very own bakery.