The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force Prepare for Cross-Domain Transformation: The F-35 and the Queen Elizabeth Carrier


2014-12-05 By Robbin Laird

During my recent visit to the European Air Group, I had a chance to sit down with one of the Royal Air Force officers in charge of the aircraft’s entry into service.

Group Captain Paul Godfrey, OBE has extensive experience of a range of combat aircraft through Harrier, F-16 and Typhoon.

A Harrier weapons instructor, he was the first non-US national to fly the F-16 CJ operationally in the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defence) role whilst on exchange with the USAF and has spent the last 10 years in the Typhoon program with two flying tours including 4th/5th generation fighter training with the F-22.

After his current tour working on the Initial Operating Capability of the UK F-35B, he will become Station Commander RAF Lossiemouth, where two Typhoon squadrons are now located and a third will stand up in 2015.

With his range of combat air experience, Godfrey is well positioned to understand the next generation capability which 5th generation aircraft can provide for the Royal Navy (RN) and RAF.

And with the intersection of the RN operating a large deck carrier and the two services jointly operating F-35Bs, the cross-domain transformation is a dynamic one as well.

Godfrey has been involved with Typhoon training with the F-22.

Based on that experience, Godfrey commented

The F-22 has unprecedented situational awareness. 

And working with Typhoon, the F-22 enhanced our survivability and augmented our lethality.

The F-22 functions is a significant Situational Awareness (SA) gap filler for the operation of a fourth generation aircraft.”

He underscored that, as good as the F-22 is, the enhanced fusion engine and advanced combat systems of the F-35 are a significant force for overall defence transformation. 

“Indeed, the impact of the F-35 will be felt on the total UK defence force; not just on the RAF.  It is a force multiplier, and can be used to help transform our combat forces, to do what you have called force insertion.”

Godfrey emphasized that managing the force mix was an essential part of introducing the F-35 into the UK service.

We will be using 4th and 5th generation aircraft for a long time in what we believe will be an incredibly potent force mix;

And on the Queen Elizabeth carriers will be mixing rotorcraft with fast jets and other combat capabilities as well to further enhance our power projection capabilities.

Question: What is striking is how little public discussion has occurred about the cross-domain modernization of the RN and RAF by bringing a large deck carrier with regard to the F-35B. 

This clearly is an exciting aspect of force transformation. 

What is your take on this cross-domain effort?

Group Captain Paul Godfrey:  That is an excellent point, and it’s exactly what we’re doing at the moment.

I’m attending a maritime warfare conference next week to look at how we would employ the range of capabilities we will embark upon and with the carrier because, of course, it’s not just F-35 and the Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers operating by themselves.

I think we (the UK) have a huge advantage as both of these capabilities — F-35 and Queen Elizabeth Class — were designed with each other in mind from the very beginning.

Having visited NAS Fallon with the RN last week, it is clear from the US Navy that live virtual constructive training will be crucial to understand both transformations and exploit the next generation capabilities that they bring.

The First Flight of the UK F-35B.  For a look at the video version of the flight on April 13, 2012 see
The First Flight of the UK F-35B. For a look at the video version of the flight on April 13, 2012 see 

The USN were very interested in our purchase of DMRT, the deployed mission-ready trainers, essentially a portable full mission simulator, one of which is already in place at Edwards AFB to support our Operational Test and Evaluation effort.

Two containers are will be ‘hung’ in the hangar deck of the Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers, which allows us to practice any number of scenarios from carrier flying to high-end training to our heart’s content on board the ship.

The ability to be able to mission rehearse or even problem solve with this capability is a step into the next generation of warfare.

The next step will be connecting that across to the Typhoon simulators off the ship in order to be able to remotely participate in 4th/5th gen training. 

There’s work in progress at the moment in terms of connecting a range of different simulators in the UK and not just in the air domain. 

We have been very successful with our Air Battle Training Centre (ABTC) at RAF Waddington, a large percentage of which is funded by the British Army due to its ability to train for Joint Fires. 

We are currently rehearsing the RED FLAG 2015 missions in there prior to deployment to Nellis AFB training Typhoon and E3-D Sentry crews and other exercises have linked in RN fighter control assets.

We will then next connect to Queen Elizabeth, and then clearly, the ultimate goal of that live virtual construct where the person in the cockpit sees the same things as the man or woman in the simulator, allowing us to train to the absolute high end, if that’s what we need to.

Question: The flexibility of the carrier deck where the F-35B can be used to help manage deck space to use a variety of other combat assets is quite impressive. What is your take on the flexibility aspect?

Group Captain Paul Godfrey:  Flexibility is the key theme.

The Queen Elizabeth is a moving airfield, and with the F-35B we can load up on combat aircraft, or offload them to land bases created on necessity not having to stand up a permanent base.

We shaped various concepts of operations for the Harrier in the 1980s and 1990s which we can employ with the F-35B in terms of leveraging air bases created on need or in terms of enhanced survivability of the aircraft, being able to operate from a diversity of launch points.

This allows us to employ other combat assets aboard the ship.

And being a ship we can move to the objective area, and move from objective area to objective area based on need and the need identified by the Commander.

And the flexibility of the ship is that it can support a wide variety of operations from Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) to high-end combat.

Question: How will F-35 work with Typhoon?

Group Captain Paul Godfrey:  The F-35 has unprecedented situational awareness and ability to provide information dominance.

It can handle the 360-degree battlespace and manage the gaps which the Typhoon may not see.

It is also a question of the ability to manage information, which the F-35 excels in doing.

The F-35 is designed to be able to show the pilot situational awareness in a large single display, which is essentially the single version of the truth, if you like.

Clearly, other aircraft have different displays that show you what’s out there, and a certain level of fusion, but there are always gaps; I think it’s key that we use the F-35 to fill those gaps.

As demonstrated with the Typhoon/F-22 synergies, we will be able to get closer to the threat with the F-35 and to enhance the probability of kill for the entire combat air fleet.

Question: You are moving forward with F-35 as a key piece for UK defence transformation, but to look at much of the aerospace literature one would think that the F-35 is a tentative program?

Group Captain Paul Godfrey:  There are 115 F-35s flying now.

We are focused on how we are going to use the capability, not whether it will exist.

There is a huge gap between the users of the aircraft and the broader puzzlement over the future outside of the warrior community.

We are just getting on with it.

We just need to encourage thinking that isn’t tied to whatever we’ve done in the past.

The F-35 fleet is different and can be used for force transformation; unless you don’t.

We are lucky in that we have a pooling agreement with the US Marine Corps, the service at the leading edge of operationalizing F-35 and they clearly get it.

When they hit IOC, those Marines are off and running. and I think we’ll see some revolutionary methods of bringing high-end combat forces together.

The Marines understand the importance of the aircraft for the warrior on the ground and it’s role in revolutionizing 21st Century warfare.

We are talking with the British Army based upon our joint lessons within the ABTC because there is little doubt that the SA, which this aircraft possesses and can be used to enhance the SA of the soldier, battlefield commander or general and will therefore be a crucial element for the British Army to transform the way they operate.

Because the Marines work on the sea, the ground and in the air and work to integrate their capabilities, we see distinct parallels to the way ahead as we combine Queen Elizabeth with the F-35B and use it as a catalyst to transform UK Defence over the next decade.

The video at the beginning of the article is from March 2014 and shows the first RAF pilot to execute a short take-off and vertical landing in an F-35B.

Royal Air Force pilots are currently undergoing training on the UK’s next generation stealth combat aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

Squadron Leader Hugh Nichols is the first UK instructor pilot to perform a vertical landing in the F-35B Lightning II – the UK’s next generation stealth combat aircraft.

Delivery of the operational UK fleet is planned to start in 2015 after a two-year period of training in the US.

The first land-based operational flights from the Main Operating Base at RAF Marham are expected in 2018. Flight trials onboard the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier will also begin in 2018, in order to provide a carrier strike capability by 2020.

Lightning II will deploy from Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers as well as from land bases.

Credit: 33rd Fighter Wing

Published on Sep 12, 2013: Squadron Leader Jim Schofield performs the first short takeoff at sea in a F-35B aircraft onboard USS Wasp (Credit: UK MOD)

According to a posting on the Aircraft Alliance website:

The Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers will be the biggest and most powerful surface warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy and will represent a step change in capability, enabling the delivery of increased strategic effect and influence around the world.

The Queen Elizabeth Class will be utilised by all three sectors of the UK Armed Forces and will provide eight acres of sovereign territory which can be deployed around the world. Both ships will be versatile enough to be used for operations ranging from supporting war efforts to providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.


With its complement of embarked aircraft the QE Class will be the centre piece of Britain’s military capability in circumstances where we cannot, or do not wish to base our aircraft on land. The ships will act as a rapidly deployable sovereign base to deliver expeditionary air operations at a time and place of the UK’s choosing, but will also be highly capable and versatile vessels which will deliver a high profile and coercive presence worldwide to support peace-keeping, conflict prevention and other strategic aims.


The HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will have increased survivability as a result of the separation and distribution of power generation machinery throughout each ship. The class has been designed with twin islands, which separates the running of the ship from the flying operations resulting in greater visibility of flying operations. The Highly Mechanised Weapon Handling System enables a streamlined crew to operate a vessel much larger than the carrier which it replaces, meaning that each ship will have a total crew of 679, only increasing to the full complement of 1,600 when the air elements are embarked.

Affordability of through life support has also been a key driver in adopting a commercial design. Key operational spaces can be readily reconfigured and additional equipment inserted in a cost effective and timely manner to suit the future requirements of the Armed Forces and the nation.

The ships will use an electric propulsion system that enables the prime movers to operate more efficiently and therefore burn less fuel, saving running costs.

Crew Facilities

There will be four galleys on board and four large dining areas which will be manned by 67 catering staff. The largest dining room has the capacity to serve 960 crew members in one hour.

Each ship will have an eight bed medical suite, operating theatre and dental surgery, which will be managed by 11 medical staff. These facilities can also be augmented to suit the requirements of every individual mission.

Crew facilities on board both ships will include a cinema and fitness suites in order to provide crew members, some of whom will be away from home for months at a time, a good range of recreational activities. Crew members will have personal access to e-mail and the internet (when satellite communications equipment is not being used for operational purposes!).

Mission Systems

The ships will each have a fully integrated command system, which has three functional areas:

Information System – The computing hardware, internal Networks and C4I software applications to support effective command and control on the carrier. E.g. – Considerable work has been done with Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Information Defence Lines of Development to understand how the data repository on board will be accessed by new and legacy systems and how that repository will be configured in the future.

Communications – The communications equipment to support the required voice and data services.
E.g. – an emulation of the Communication Control Management System and the Tactical C2 Voice system have been procured to exercise the business process of configuring the carrier for internal and external communications.

Air Management and Protection System – The on-board sensor and weapon systems for the management of aircraft in the air and on deck and the defence of the ship.

What’s in a name?

HMS Queen Elizabeth

There have been more than twenty ships named Elizabeth, the list of Battle Honours for which extends from the Armada in 1588 to Guadeloupe in 1810. However, only one ship by the name HMS Queen Elizabeth has served with the Royal Navy – as the lead ship of an important and innovative class of battleships which served with great distinction in both World Wars.

With 15 inch guns as her principal armament, the first HMS Queen Elizabeth was a 33,000 ton battleship. Built in Portsmouth, she was launched in 1913 and was completed the following year. Her service history during the World Wars included the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet during World War I. Despite damage from torpedoes during World War II, she went on to take part in operations in the Indian Ocean before returning home.

HMS Prince of Wales

The Royal Navy’s first ship named HMS Prince of Wales was originally a French privateer, commissioned on behalf of the ex-King James, then taken as prize by HMS York in 1693 and brought into service as a Sixth Rate ship, armed with 14 guns.

There have been a further seven Royal Navy ships called Prince of Wales. The most recent a ‘King George V’ Class battleship, built by Cammell Laird in 1939. The service history of this ship included the Battle of the Denmark Straight during which the German battle ship, The Bismarck, was destroyed.

In 1941 HMS Prince of Wales transported Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Newfoundland where he met with the then President of the United States, Franklin D Roosevelt, to agree the Atlantic Charter.