Making Waves – the future of maritime capability

26 February 2020

Weighing in at 65,000-tonne and towering above the nation’s most venerated admiral in Trafalgar Square, the new HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carriers represent the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy.

With a range of 10,000 nautical miles, the new purpose-built warships provide the UK with the ability to lend its military support to almost any crisis around the world. Each ship boasts a crew numbering in excess of 700 personnel, a number that rises to 1,600 when you add the flight crews, engineers and Royal Marines who might also be on-board. The flight decks alone cover four acres – the size of three football pitches – providing ample room for the new air carrier group comprising a mix of the Royal Navy Commando Helicopter Force Merlin Mk 4, Wildcat AH1, Royal Air Force F-35B and Chinooks, and Army Air Corps Apaches to provide the warship with both maritime protection and littoral manoeuvre capability.

To coincide with the HMS Prince of Wales leaving Portsmouth to embark on its first sea trials with the air carrier group, the UK public has a unique chance to take a tour on-board one of the country’s two new flagships. Over the weekend of 29 Feb - 1 March, the second of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers will be moored at Liverpool docks, allowing visitors to marvel at engineering and technological achievements that are sure to make the warship a source of national pride.

In pride of place will be the AW159 Wildcat and AW101 Merlin helicopters, which keep watch over the carrier and the surrounding seas, ensuring the ship and its crew are well protected from enemy submarines, surface ships, aircraft and missiles. The helicopters are designed and built by engineers based at Leonardo’s iconic Yeovil facilities, the UK’s only factory capable of producing a complete helicopter. The new Commando Merlin Mk 4 has been especially designed for use on the carrier; its folding rotor blades and tail fin mean more aircraft can be stored in the on-board hangers, providing the RN Commandos with greater operational capability.

Leonardo also equips the HMS Prince of Wales with a secure and resilient communications network which connects crew members stationed throughout the warship’s labyrinth of passageways. Keeping the HMS Prince of Wales in-touch with the rest of the fleet, Leonardo also provides secure messaging equipment for the Royal Navy’s ships and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s Tide-class tankers, which provide essential support to the carriers, all from the company's manufacturing base in Southampton.

As a member of the UK Naval Engineering, Science & Technology (UKNEST) forum, Leonardo also provides capabilities for the carrier in partnership with other companies. The company’s thermal imaging detectors, from its Southampton site, form part of the carrier’s Electro Optical Systems and flight path monitoring system from Ultra Electronics. Leonardo’s engineers have also integrated new Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) systems from BAE Systems.

The detectors are based on the same Leonardo technology that allows RAF Chinook pilots to see in low visibility conditions and underpins our Falcon Shield Counter drone system utilised to great effect by the Royal Air Force to resolve the drone crisis that grounded flights at Gatwick Airport over the 2018 Christmas period.

During the visit to Liverpool, much of this technology will be displayed on-board the HMS Prince of Wales, with young ambassadors from Leonardo and across UK industry demonstrating the value of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics to many of the children and students who visit the aircraft carrier.

Highlighting the exciting career opportunities offered by engineering companies such as Leonardo is key to ensuring that the UK remains one of the world’s leading exponents of technological innovation. The engineering achievements of the new carrier class and next generation UK military capability such as the Future Combat Air System being conceived by Team Tempest – a collaboration between the UK MOD and UK industrial partners including Leonardo – are dependent on having a national skilled workforce with world-leading engineering excellence that is able to meet the evolving threats and challenges of the 21st Century.

Just as for the crews of the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, there is much on the horizon for UK engineering to be excited about!