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Alliancing for the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier programme

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The two largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy have been ordered, and the first is now being assembled at Rosyth naval base, on the Firth of Forth in Scotland. The vessels, to be named HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, each displaces 65,000 tons, and are being built under a unique alliancing arrangement which reflects the challenges and complexity of the programme to build them. Subjected to the vagaries of strategic and financial decision making, there had been considerable early changes to the programme, but the alliancing concept has survived.

On 27th October Geoff Searle, Programme Director, Aircraft Carrier Alliance gave the Farnborough Chapter of APM, together with IMechE members, a fascinating insight into the complex nature of both the contractual arrangements and the programme management requirements needed to deliver the ships and an overview of the design of the ships and progress to date. The event was hosted by BAE Systems.

The Aircraft Carrier Alliance comprises BAE Systems, Thales and Babcock and the Ministry of Defence. It was recognised at an early stage in the planning that no one organisation was likely to have the capacity and capability to be able to deliver the ships to time and cost. The Alliance was therefore formed in such a way as to ensure that all partners took collective responsibility and ownership of the project and would ultimately ensure that each would share in both risk and reward. In doing so, the Alliance has adopted principles of contractual co-operation which are also used in North Sea oil and gas activities.

The Alliance is run by its management board, which is made up of senior executives of the partners, and chaired by the Ministry of Defence. The board leads the Alliance management team, which is responsible for running the carrier programme.

Both ships are being built in blocks at seven shipyards throughout the UK, and the blocks are transported by sea to Rosyth to be fitted together. This method of construction allows use of modular assemblies, also familiar from North Sea operations; and there is an emphasis on the use of off the shelf equipment, to minimise cost and uncertainty, although much use is made of new technology, such as fibre-optic IT networks throughout the vessels. A commercial logistics company is providing logistical services from a warehouse complex in central Scotland.

The statistics are impressive: each vessel will be able to carry up to 40 aircraft, including helicopters; the electrical system will provide enough power for a town the size of Swindon; each is three times the size of its predecessor Invincible-class carrier; and between them they will require 80,000 tons of steel, three times that used in Wembley Stadium. Each will provide accommodation for 800 naval crew and 800 air group personnel. There is also a need for up to seven new support ships.

Although the programme has been managed in an innovative way, Geoff reported that the numbers of changes were fewer than had been planned for and the programme is progressing to plan. The first ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to enter service in 2016, following what he described as the massive task of training.

Many enthusiastic questions were put to Geoff, before a successful event was concluded.

Peter Deary
Chairman Farnborough Chapter


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