Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier: Will the UK get a pair?

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An artists impression of a Queen Elizabeth II Class aircraft carrier. Photo: MoD

"Madness."

That is how one former head of the Royal Navy described the situation currently facing the UK's huge aircraft carrier programme.

Lord West, a former First Sea Lord, has recently dismissed the Royal Navy's total number of escort ships a "national disgrace."

He was talking to ITV News as we visited Britain's newest aircraft carrier in Rosyth - just days before the Queen goes there to name the ship after herself.

Some facts about the Queen Elizabeth II class aircraft carrier:

  • The first HMS Queen Elizabeth was completed 100 years before the launch of the new one
  • The Queen Elizabeth Class will fly the F35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, as well as any type of helicopter used by the UK Armed Forces
  • Such is the scale and complexity of the Queen Elizabeth Class that personnel have hand-held navigation aids.
  • The ships have their own bakery, which can produce 1,000 loaves of bread per day
  • The ship's Artisan 3D radar can track a tennis ball travelling at three times the speed of sound

More: Aircraft carriers bill 'likely to top £6 billion'

The view from HMS Queen Elizabeth II's ski jump take-off ramp, looking aft Credit: ITV News/Chris Ship

HMS Queen Elizabeth will be floated out of the UK's largest dry dock shortly after she is named - so that work can begin on the construction of the second aircraft carrier.

That ship - HMS Prince of Wales - is costing £3 billion. But despite the cost, the government has yet to decided whether, on completion, it will sail her, sell her or mothball her.

That decision will be taken in the next defence review in 2015.

While Lord West called that "madness" - the Defence Secretary told us it was the legacy of the Labour government which signed the contract in the first place.

Philip Hammond said that meant it was more expensive to stop building HMS Prince of Wales than to build her.

But the ministry of Defence is under pressure to commit to both carriers.

MPs, former commanders and it's believed current commanders have told ministers that one aircraft carrier will leave Britain unprotected for twenty per cent of the year.

Only with two - they say - can Britain ensure it has a carrier strike force available for 365 days of the year.

Since the government scrapped the Harrier jump jets - the country has had aircraft carriers with no aircraft (at least no jets).

That embarrassing episode for this maritime nation will end only after 2018 when ship and jets will be together again on HMS Queen Elizabeth.

But when the Queen leaves Rosyth on July 4th, she might wonder if the ship named after her - will ever be joined at the sea by the ship named after her son.

More: New photos show size of HMS Queen Elizabeth