HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH DEBUT IN PORTSMOUTH WITH FIRST ENTRY TO HER HOME PORT
At exactly 0706 on 16 August 2017, the Royal Navy officially began a new era of ‘Carrier Sea Power’.
Arriving as she did, HMS Queen Elizabeth was three minutes earlier than programmed; Portsmouth was awash with thousands of spectators and broadcasters who were lining the seafront at Southsea and the round tower in the old part of the historic Naval City. It was here after all, where Nelson had been based before setting off to fight the French and win at Trafalgar, as well as where the Falklands Task Force had sailed and returned in 1982.
Portsmouth is set to become the Home of the UK’s Aircraft Carriers for at least the next 50 years and probably a few more after refits and life extensions, and the berth of the two mighty Ships when not at Sea on operations or deployments. HMS Queen Elizabeth the big sister of HMS Prince of Wales will very much be the test bed for many of the innovations and first-rate engineering marvels that the QE Class ships will have. From F35B (Lightening II) super Jets to Crowsnest equipped Merlin 2 helicopters (Sea King Bagger replacements) as well as the first ships in the world designed specifically to operate Firth and Sixth generation aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
Captain Jerry Kyd, the Commanding Officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth, said: "HMS Queen Elizabeth's first entry into her home port of Portsmouth is an historic, proud and exciting occasion, not only for those of us serving in her, but also for the wider Royal Navy, the city of Portsmouth and the entire nation.”
"The UK's future flagship, as well her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales, will be powerful symbols of Britain's outward facing global character and ambition. The Royal Navy has a very special relationship with Portsmouth dating back half a millennium and both carriers will ensure the Navy's city remains the focal point of our great nation's maritime power for generations to come. Being a local lad, I am extremely proud that Portsmouth will now be the base port for the nation's future flagship.”
The berth for the carriers was renamed ‘Princes Royal Jetty’ in honour of Portsmouth Naval Bases Lady Sponsor, Princes Anne, and has been upgraded and strengthened to support the carriers as part of a £100 million raft of infrastructure upgrades, which took place ahead of the arrival of the ship. A total of 3.2 million cubic metres of sediment, equivalent to 1,280 Olympic swimming pools has been removed from the harbour and approach channel, making it wide and deep enough to accommodate the enormous 65,000 tonne ships.
After her impressive entry into Portsmouth, HMS Queen Elizabeth may look close to being the ready for action, but there is a lot of work to do before she can take up her position as the nation’s Flagship and join the Fleet. Despite being more symbolic than of military significance at this stage, QE’s entry into Portsmouth was a major public relations success for the Royal Navy. Rather out of the media spotlight for some time, the senior service was overshadowed by the army-centric campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The formal naming ceremony for her younger sister, HMS Prince of Wales was held on 8th September in Rosyth. Just before Christmas, it is expected QE will commission in Portsmouth in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen. This date brought forward from the original plan to commission in 2018. These milestone events will help keep media focus on the Royal Navy and the ‘Carrier Strike’ project.
At the moment HMS Queen Elizabeth is still owned by her builders and has only completed the first part of her test and commissioning phase. The first phase of trials focussing on engines, steering, and auxiliary machinery was apparently completed very successfully. By coming to Portsmouth sooner than originally planned, her ship’s company can now get some well-deserved leave and a tricky re-entry into Rosyth avoided. She remains in Portsmouth for probably around 8 weeks while planned engineering work is completed and issues encountered during trials addressed. In the autumn, she will sail for part 2 trials with a greater focus on mission systems, radars, communications, and electronics.
Even when QE is a commissioned warship, there will be a long process to fully sweep-up and train the ship’s company (pass Operational Sea Training), conduct flight trials and work up the air group before she can declare initial operating capability in 2020. Full operating Article for ACAcapability (Carrier Strike) will not be achieved until 2023.
Next year 820 Naval Air Squadron will be the first operational squadron to embark aboard QE. Their Merlin Mk2s will practice their primary role of anti-submarine warfare, protecting the carrier from the underwater threat. In the last quarter of 2018 the first British F-35B Lightning will land on QE off the eastern coast of the United States. An 8-week flight-testing period will be another landmark on the long road to restoring UK carrier capability.