RogerBW's Blog

One for the Brow part 4: carriers and submarines 01 May 2014

So Queen Elizabeth, Duke of Edinburgh and let's say Eagle are built during the early 1970s. That's the easy bit. What aircraft do they carry?

P.1154, the supersonic V/STOL fighter project, will still get cancelled. The technology of the day simply can't make it work (the fates of the Mirage IIIV and VJ101 support this proposition). The Fleet Air Arm will stagger on for a few years with Sea Vixens while waiting for it rather than buying American, but in the medium term (certainly by the time Queen Elizabeth is in service) they can switch to the variable-geometry English Electric Sea Lightning, a Spey-engined derivative of the Lightning interceptor. (This was a successful experimental aircraft which for financial reasons never went to prototype in the real world.) That's primarily a fleet defence interceptor, but can take on a light strike role. We'll probably need to give it a radar-guided missile capability with the Matra R.530, replaced by Skyflash when that becomes available.

The Buccaneer, in service from 1962, starts to look like a bit of a poor relative. The S.3 upgraded version (based on Blackburn's historical P.150 proposal) is clearly of the same lineage, but lots of details differ: the Speys are uprated and have reheat, the intakes carry shock cones, the fuselage is longer, there's a new wing, and it can reach Mach 1.8. It's what the RN uses instead of a TSR.2.

The Hawker Siddeley P.139B AEW aircraft, replacement for the Fairey Gannet, was historically cancelled on the drawing board at the same time as the Queen Elizabeth; that'll be our AEW platform, under the name Gadfly (short for Gadfly Petrel, honest). It will look and perform much like a more bulbous E-2 Hawkeye; there's room for a better sensor, since it has fore and aft fixed radomes rather than a rotating saucer.

The Bell X-22 tiltfan first flew in 1966. In the real world, it took forty years to develop it into the V-22 Osprey. Here we'll bring some Bell engineers over to Westland, set up a licencing deal, and let them finish off the development of the prototype without trying to add too much sophistication, to have the Westland Weevil in service by 1971 flying on four Rolls-Royce Gnomes. It's a little smaller than a Sea King, with about the same payload, but can go twice as fast. It is known universally through the fleet as "the lesser". (In later years it may become a valuable anti-ship missile platform. A smaller derivative, the Seagull, will replace the historical Lynx in the late 1970s. The standard slang term for a seagull will be applied.)

By 1975 a Queen Elizabeth's air wing will consist of 18 Sea Lightning, 18 Buccaneer S.3, 4 Gadfly AEW, 4 Weevil HAS.1 for ASW and two more Weevils for SAR, and a Gadfly converted for COD.

As for other weapons, this is the one class built with a conventional Sea Dart launcher, deck space for VLS being at something of a premium.

The historical Invincible class began as a design study for a helicopter carrier with ASW and commando capability. Our Invincible will stick closer to that template than the eventual "through-deck cruisers", to be a missile-armed "cruiser carrier" operating Weevils. The first ship is just about in service by 1975.

Bulwark and Albion have had the historical commando carrier conversion by the time things start to diverge, but are paid off with Centaur and Hermes as the Invincible class becomes available.

Victorious is retired early, once Queen Elizabeth is available. Similarly, Eagle and Ark Royal are scrapped or sold as the more modern carriers enter service.

As for submarines, the five boats of the Resolution class (add Ramillies) are refitted to carry Poseidon missiles from 1972 onwards.

The attack submarine fleet remains more or less as historically, with the Churchill and early Swiftsure boats on long-range patrols, while the Porpoise and Oberon classes are used more in shallow waters.

(Next: other surface combatants)

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:19pm on 01 May 2014

    No carrier version of the TSR-2? Is the aircraft simply too large for that?

    Also what happens to the subsonic Harrier in this scheme? It wasn't designed for navel use historically it was converted to that, so it may still go ahead based on its original "don't need an airfield" reasoning.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:37pm on 01 May 2014

    I don't see the TSR-2 as readily convertible to carrier operation: historically, the best carrier planes are built that way to start with, with solid substructure and landing gear, not bodged into the role later. I have grave doubts about the utility of the MiG-29K and Su-33 for just this reason: they're not just "the mother plane, but carrier capable", rather some degree of capability will have been lost, whether that shows up in combat power or serviceability.

    I haven't looked as hard into non-naval aspects of this world, but I suspect the Harrier may not get built at all -- or it may get sold to a European country where they have more concern about airfields being overrun rather than merely bombed. Certainly nobody will take it seriously as a fighter until it proves itself (as historically it did in the Falklands).

  3. Posted by John Dallman at 11:10pm on 01 May 2014

    TSR-2 was also too big for a carrier. The length limit for CVA-01 was 65', and TSR-2 was 24' longer than that. Its span was no problem, but its loaded weight was 79,500lb, as opposed for 47,530lb for the A-5 Vigilante (76.5' long) or 70,000lb for the A-3 Skywarrior (76.33' long), the two biggest and heaviest carrier aircraft of history.

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