America Needs More Aircraft Carriers, And Britain's Royal Navy Has An Idea

Michael Peck

Key point: In some ways, leasing British warships to America would revive an old relationship.

To offset a shrinking defense budget, the British military is considering whether to lease a carrier to the Americans, according to British media. The instigator of the scheme? The British Army, which considers carriers to be expensive floating targets. So if the budget demands sacrifices, let it fall on the Royal Navy.

“The army hates aircraft carriers, which they have always seen as a white elephant, but the Americans love them,” a government official told the British press. “They are cutting edge because they can operate with far fewer crew than U.S. carriers."

Once leaders in carrier aviation during World War II, Britain’s last aircraft carrier was scrapped in 2016. But Britain’s carrier force is now back, with HMS Queen Elizabeth scheduled for its first deployment in 2021, followed by the Prince of Wales.  Each of the nearly $8 billion vessels can carry up to 36 F-35Bs, the naval short-takeoff and vertical landing variant of the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter also flown by the U.S. Navy. At 65,000 tons each, the gas-turbine Queen Elizabeths are smaller than America’s 100,000-ton Ford-class nuclear-powered carriers, but are also highly automated. The British ships have a crew of about 800 sailors, not counting the carrier’s air wing, compared to 2,600 for a Ford-class vessel.

The Royal Navy is pushing hard to integrate its carriers with their U.S. counterparts. “As she has demonstrated already, we can successfully field a combined U.S., U.K. carrier strike group,” said Admiral Tony Radakin, Chief of Naval Staff, during HMS Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the U.S. East Coast this month. “I look forward to this developing further, moving to the point where we are not only talking about interoperability, but we are looking for interchangeability. ”

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