Monday, 28 March 2011

U.S.S. America Versus H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth : A Cost Comparison

It is often suggested that Britain should buy ships like the United States' Navy's U.S.S. America class.

This is usually suggested as a "cheaper option" than the Queen Elizabeth class carriers.

This does not appear to be the case when one considers how much these ships cost.

From the United States' Navy' FY 2012 Budget,the U.S.S. America/L.H.A.6 class costs (U.S.) $13,419 Million/(U.K.) £8,387 Million for 3 ships or an average of $4,473 Million/£2,796 Million each.

From the National Audit Office Major Projects Report 2010,the Queen Elizabeth class costs £5,900 Million/$9,440 Million for 2 ships or an average of £2,950 Million/$4,720 Million each.

It is important to note that the decision to delay construction of the Queen Elizabeth class is responsible for £1,560 Million/$2,496 Million of that £5,900 Million/$9,440 Million total cost.

Had the ships not been delayed to free up money for other over budget projects like Typhoon,the 2 ships would have cost £4,340 Million/$6,944 Million or an average of £2,170 Million/$3,472 Million per ship.

If the United Kingdom had been building or buying the U.S.S. America/L.H.A.6 class instead of the Queen Elizabeth class they would have been delayed due to the same budgetary problems with similar cost penalties.

The U.S.S. America/L.H.A.6 class will have significantly higher operating costs than the Queen Elizabeth class as it requires almost 1,100 crew members compared to almost 700 crew members for the Queen Elizabeth class.

The U.S.S. America/L.H.A.6 class can only operate the vertical landing F35B which has lifecycle costs 25% higher than the F35C,according to the British Prime Minister,which can be carried by the Queen Elizabeth class.

While a single Queen Elizabeth class ship can supply all of the United Kingdom's expeditionary air power needs in most conflicts,the less aviation capable U.S.S. America/L.H.A.6 class cannot and would require either additional ships or land based fighter and tanker support at an additional cost which far exceeds that of the aircraft carriers themselves.

As current operations in Libya are demonstrating,land based aircraft are usually based further from the combat area than carrier based aircraft.

This has been the case in almost every major war fighting operation the United Kingdom has been involved in over the last 65 years.

This results in them generating fewer sorties per aircraft per day and fewer hours on station per sortie.

Consequently the land based combat aircraft fleet must be significantly larger and hence more expensive than a sea based carrier wing to deliver the same effect.

Often the land base requires twice as many combat aircraft to achieve the same effect as the carrier's air wing.

The cost of these additional land based aircraft may be 5 times that of the aircraft carrier it's self.

The land based aircraft will also require substantial aerial refuelling support while the carrier based aircraft will require less,or often no,aerial refuelling.

The British Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft costs approximately 3 times as much as the Royal Navy's Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers for each service year.

It can be seen that it would be prohibitively expensive for the United Kingdom to buy aircraft carriers with less aviation capacity.


Josh said...

nice one

GrandLogistics said...

Hello Josh,

thankyou and welcome to GrandLogistics.


Ron said...

Nice blog.

Saturn 5 said...


A very interesting and informative post. I have 2 question though.

1) Is the R&D cost of the USS America class included in the average price?
2) How are the unit prices both classes calculated? Which items/services are included which are excluded?


GrandLogistics said...

Hello Ron,

thankyou and welcome to GrandLogistics.


Anonymous said...

Where's the analysis? You just say the QE are better yet except for the price comparison which is not definitely in favor of the British carrier you don't say anything more on the subject. Furthermore I don't see why you again feel the need to talk about the sortie rate of land based aircraft vs naval aviation. We know it already, you've said it dozens of times.

I don't want to bash you and I hope you don't take it personal. I'd like to read more ideas of you that are backed up by some evidence.

GrandLogistics said...

Hello Saturn 5,

figures are the total program costs divided by the number of units and so will include development costs.
Except for the £987 Million production cost for the second Queen Elizabeth class ship which is just the cost of building that ship.


SNAFU! said...

nicely done. i of course disagree but nicely done !

GrandLogistics said...

Hello Anonymous,

if you read the title of this post you will see it is a cost comparison.
It would be absurd to make such a comparison without reference to the single biggest cost factor - the system cost of delivering air power by other means if the aircraft carrier doesn't have sufficient aviation capacity.

Nowhere did I say that one ship is better than the other,they are different tools designed for different jobs.

The America class is primarily an assault ship designed for a navy which has 100,000 tonne nuclear powered aircraft carriers to deliver air power.

THe Queen Elizabeth class is the United Kingdom's only means of delivering air power cost effectively for expeditionary operations with some air assault capacity thrown in for good measure.


GrandLogistics said...

Hello SNAFU/Solomon,

thankyou,incidentally I am a huge fan of Marine Corps aviation in general.

Their emphasis on getting in close from the deck of a ship or a 4,000 foot air strip minimises transit times and refuelling demand while maximising time on station and sortie rates (as they are currently demonstrating in Libya).

Their doctrine of concentration of air power at the "schwerepunkt" rather than dispersing it across a whole country (air force style) also has numerous benefits in terms of both greater efficiency and lower risk.

That is a very efficient way to operate,they should give lessons to some air forces I could mention.

But for me the big problem the Marines face is the ships they have to operate from.
E.F.V.,L.C.A.C.,F35B and V22 all look to me like expensive solutions to the problem of operating from ships with inadequate flying and landing capacity.

I would like to see the Marines reviewing the kind of ships they operate from rather than concentrating on what they operate from those ships as they have done over the last decade.


MSR said...

Hi. I have cross-posted this from the warships1 RN forum where this discussion most recently took place.

Whilst others may have suggested [building a similar design to that of the LHA-6] on cost grounds, I have made no such assertion and consider only that a CVF built to a more amphib-oriented design would have been less of a political football and contentious issue within defence and would, therefore, have been more likely to meet initial planning, construction and in-service dates (the delays incurred where entirely political in nature and directly responsible for inflating the price of both units from circa £3 billion to circa £5 billion - a completely avoidable increase brought about by politicians and other political creatures within various bureaucracies, both elected and unelected). It would have been less contentious because it would have had a more clearly defined and more clearly relevant purpose from the beginning and would have been less likely to suffer from accusations of being a Cold War relic, a tool of international aggression and a costly, ineffective attempt at acquiring a similar capability to that of the USN. Key to this approach would have been the retention of STOVL as this would dove-tail with the hybrid amphibious role postulated, and remains even now the only viable way of retaining fixed wing carrier aviation within the FAA and therefore, permitting the RN to retain control of fixed wing assets for use at its own discretion without running the gauntlet of interservice politics by being forced to rely on the RAF.

GrandLogistics said...

Hello MSR,

thankyou,I have just had a quick look at that thread,the poster named Trouble appears to be very poorly informed.

I agree with you about the inter service politics issue.
As we have covered here in other posts,the Type 45 destroyers and Astute class submarines both cost significantly more than the Royal Navy's new aircraft carriers.
Yet they do not suffer from the negative propaganda that the carriers attract,probably because destroyers and submarines are not seen as a threat by the Royal Air Force.

You may be right about the political nature of the delay,the recent defence cuts amounted to about 20 times the money which was to have been saved each year in the short term by delaying the carriers.
That saving could easily have been found in a more cost effective manner.
The armed forces exist to serve the taxpayer not the other way round.
If service self interest is getting in the way of delivering air power cost effectively then someone needs to be sacked.

I also agree that the carriers should have had a greater emphasis on amphibious operations,specifically much greater accommodation.
However,it would not be a good idea to buy ships with less aviation capacity,nor to rely on vertical landing.

According to the Strategic Defence and Security Review documents the lifecycle costs of the F35B are expected to be 25% greater than for the F35C.
We don't yet know how much the F35C will cost to buy and operate but if we assume the F35C cost as much as a Tornado,about £10 Million a year,we can come to some estimates.

To field 36 frontline aircraft (a carrier's worth) will require a fleet of about 60 F35Cs which based on the above estimate would cost about £600 Million a service year.
If the F35B cost 25% more than that it would cost £750 Million a year for 60 of them,£150 Million a year extra.

The 2 aircraft carriers themselves only cost about £200 Million per service year,for the pair!

That is just a rough estimate but it does give an idea of just how expensive going for F35B would be.

There are additional costs as well.

F35B has a shorter combat radius and less endurance than the F35C and so requires a larger air tanker fleet to support it.
Aerial refuelling tankers are very expensive.
The Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft fleet is costing about £600 Million a service year,3 times as much as the new aircraft carriers.
With carrier based F35Cs,a big chunk of that cost can be saved as far less tanking will be required.

Then there is the Airborne Early Warning problem.
With F35B you need a ship based helicopter platform to carry the radar,that is very limited in terms of speed,range,endurance and altitude (which limits radar horizon).
So much so that fixed wing aircraft will be needed to support strikes deep in hostile territory.
Buying and operating 2 A.E.W. fleets is very expensive,replacing the Sentry in 2025 is likely to cost about £3,000 Million alone.
If you have a catapult ship,all you need is a small fleet of Hawkeyes costing far less to buy and operate than the combined helicopter/converted airliners alternative.

Most important of all though is that a smaller ship like the America class cannot generate as many sorties/hours on station per day as the Queen Elizabeth class.
Which means you would need multiple ships to do the same job - which is not economically viable.
Alternatively you would need land based air power - which is also not economically viable.

In every major warfighting operation the United Kingdom has been involved in for the last 66 years,carrier aircraft have generated far higher sortie rates than the Royal Air Force has managed from land bases.
Current operations in Libya being only the latest example.

Reply length exceeded,continued in next post...

GrandLogistics said...

.....Continued from above.

Someone on that thread mentioned the invasion of Afghanistan for example.
U.S.A.F. F15Es based at Ali Al Jabber each flew about 1 sortie every 4 days.
Carrier based F18s in the Arabian Sea each flew about 1 sortie each day.
Both types spent a similar amount of time on station over Afghanistan but the land based aircraft had to fly about 4 hours more than the carrier aircraft just to get to Afghanistan and back.
The F15s required substantially more aerial refuelling as a result (see above for cost of same).

Most importantly it would have required 4 times as many land based aircraft to generate the same number of sorties/hours on station as the carrier aircraft.
Going back to our £600 Million a year estimate for 60 F35Cs,the land base would require £2,400 a year's worth of F35Cs to do the same job as the aircraft carrier.
That is just not affordable.

Of all the major defence projects,the new carriers are the least likely to be regarded as Cold War relics.

During the Cold War Britain got rid of it's large carriers and built the small Invincible class anti-submarine carriers which were more suited to Cold War tasks.
The big carriers had been seen as essential to "out of area" tasks but not neccessary for protecting the G.I.U.K. gap.
It is the Invincibles which were Cold War relics,the Queen Elizabeths are designed for operations outside the N.A.T.O. context,they are very much post Cold War ships.

Ultimately,the defence budget does not exist to serve the parochial interests of the armed forces.
It exists to serve the interests of the taxpayer.
We should be looking at cost and effect.
The big cat and trap carrier is the most cost effective means of delivering air power for expeditionary war fighting operations.
As the Tornado fleet is proving at the moment.

The problem is that efficiency will lead to many in the Royal Air Force losing their jobs which is why aircraft carriers are very unpopular is some quarters.
Self interest taking precedence over national interest.


Levi Moore said...

just so you know the USS America was scuttled in 2005

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GrandLogistics said...

Hello Levi Moore,

they have built another one.


GrandLogistics said...

Hello Anonymous,

thank you for your kind offer,but it must be declined.