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US, UK, and Japanese aircraft carriers are training together in the Pacific. Here's how their 'big decks' stack up

Source : Business Insider India

US, UK, and Japanese aircraft carriers are training together in the Pacific. Here's how their 'big decks' stack up
USS Carl Vinson, HMS Queen Elizabeth, and JS Kaga lead US, Australian, Japanese, and British ships and aircraft during an exercise in the Bay of Bengal, October 17, 2021.US Navy/MCS2 Haydn N. Smith

  • In recent weeks, US Navy ships have worked with other navies during exercises in the Pacific. 
  • The exercises have seen US aircraft carriers sail with their British and Japanese counterparts.

It's been a busy two months for the American, British, and Japanese navies — especially their carriers. 

In early October, they were part of a massive exercise that saw the US Navy's USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson, the UK's HMS Queen Elizabeth, and Japan's JS Ise operating together in the Western Pacific. 

A few weeks later, USS Carl Vinson, HMS Queen Elizabeth, and one of Japan's Izumo-class helicopter carriers, JS Kaga, trained with Royal Australian Navy ships in the eastern Indian Ocean.

In early November, JS Ise and USS America, an amphibious assault ship, trained off of southern Japan, while and USS Carl Vinson and JS Kaga conducted exercises in the South China Sea. 

The drills show a concerted effort to develop interoperability between navies with carrier capabilities and is likely meant as a demonstration to China as it continues to increase its own naval power. 

The drills 

USS Ronald Reagan, left, HMS Queen Elizabeth, middle, and JS Ise, right, sail with USS Carl Vinson in the Philippine Sea, October 3, 2021.US Navy/MCS3 Erin C. Zorich

The drills are only parts of long deployments by ships of all three navies.

USS Ronald Reagan is the US's only forward-deployed carrier, stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, with the US Navy's 7th Fleet. Reagan has been operating in the region since it returned in September from a mission to support the withdrawal from Afghanistan. USS Carl Vinson and its strike group arrived in the 7th Fleet's area of operations in early September. 

Britain's Carrier Strike Group 21, led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, entered the Indo-Pacific in July. Japan's Indo-Pacific Deployment 2021, which includes JS Kaga, began on August 20. 

Fifteen Australian, Canadian, German, Japanese, and US Navy ships in formation during an exercise, November 21, 2021.US Navy/MCS2 Haydn N. Smith

The drill with all four carriers — Japan calls its flattops helicopter destroyers or multi-purpose destroyers due to prohibitions on offensive weaponry — was the largest, with 17 ships and 15,000 personnel from the US, UK, Japanese, Dutch, Canadian, and New Zealand navies.

The drills took place in different places at different times but tended to focus on a few important capabilities: joint planning, communications, air warfare, live-fire gunnery, anti-submarine warfare, and cross-deck flight operations, which are easier now that the US Navy, Marine Corps and British Royal Navy all operate the F-35B. 

They also occurred amid rising tensions between China and the US and its partners. Their operations may have been one factor that prompted China's record-setting aerial incursions into Taiwan's air-defense identification zone. 

The Carriers 

An EA-18G Growler launches from USS Carl Vinson as it sails alongside USS Ronald Reagan in the Philippine Sea, October 3, 2021.US Navy/MCS3 Isaiah Williams

Reagan and Vinson are two of 10 Nimitz-class carriers in service with the US Navy.

Each are 1,092 feet long and displace about 97,000 tons. They are powered by two Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, allowing them to sail at over 30 knots with a range limited only by the endurance of their crew. Their standard complement is 3,000 to 3,200 sailors and a roughly 1,500-man air wing. 

Their massive size enables them to carry over 60 aircraft, usually a combination of F/A-18E or F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters, EA-18G Growler electronic-warfare aircraft, and E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning and control aircraft. The carriers can also carry MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and C-2 Greyhound transport aircraft. Future air wings may also include drones. 

Nimitz-class carriers use a Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery, or CATOBAR, system for air operations. The Nimitz class' successor, the Gerald R. Ford class, also has CATOBAR systems, but they will be powered by electromagnets rather than steam.

Amphibious assault ships like USS America are not full-fledged carriers but can operate short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft like the AV-8B Harrier II and its successor, the F-35B stealth fighter. 

The Queen Elizabeth class 

HMS Queen Elizabeth sails alongside USS Carl Vinson in the Philippine Sea, October 3, 2021.US Navy/MCS3 Erin C. Zorich

HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales were commissioned in 2017 and 2019, respectively, and give the Royal Navy a renewed carrier capability. 

The carriers are 920 feet long and displace 65,000 tons. Powered by two gas-turbine engines and four marine diesel engines, they sail as fast as 25 knots and have a range of 10,000 miles.

Queen Elizabeth-class carriers have a number of improvements over previous British carriers, chief among them their unique dual-island configuration, with the forward island handling ship navigation and the aft island controlling flight operations. 

The minimum crew each carrier can operate with is 679 sailors, but they have berths for 1,600 total. The crew size will vary on the air wing, the ideal composition of which would be would be 36 F-35Bs and at least four helicopters, likely a combination of Merlin Mk2s or Mk4s and Wildcat AH1s. 

Both Queen Elizabeth-class carriers are fully operational as of October, but the British F-35B fleet is limited — it's now down to 20 jets after one of HMS Queen Elizabeth's F-35Bs crashed in November.

That restricts the size of the air wings the carriers can embark. Ten of the 18 F-35Bs aboard Queen Elizabeth belong to the US Marine Corps. 

Japan's not-quite-carriers

Japanese Izumo-class multipurpose destroyer JS Izumo during an exercise in the Philippine Sea, November 21, 2021.US Navy/MCS Seaman Apprentice Isaiah B. Goessl


Japan's two Izumo-class helicopter carriers, JS Izumo and JS Kaga, and two Hyūga-class helicopter carriers, JS Hyūga and JS Ise, are the largest ships in its navy, the Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Izumo and JS Kaga were commissioned in 2015 and 2017, respectively, while Hyūga and JS Ise were commissioned in 2009 and 2011.

Displacing 24,000 tons and measuring 813 feet long, the Izumos are powered by four gas-turbine engines and are capable of sailing at 30 knots. They have an air wing of seven SH‐60K Seahawk anti-submarine-warfare helicopters and seven Kawasaki MCH‐101 helicopters, which conduct minesweeping and transport missions. 

The Hyūgas, displacing some 18,000 tons and measuring 646 feet, are also powered by four gas-turbine engines and can reach speeds over 30 knots. Their air wings usually consist of three SH‐60K Seahawks and one MCH‐101. They are also armed with 16 Mk 41 vertical launch missile cells, two Phalanx close-in weapon systems, and two triple torpedo tubes. 

Japanese Izumo-class helicopter destroyer JS Kaga sails in formation with USS Carl Vinson in the South China Sea, October 30, 2021.US Navy/MCS3 Tyler Wheaton

Because Japan's pacifist constitution forbids offensive weaponry, Japan's aircraft-carrying ships mostly focus on anti-submarine warfare.

In 2018, however, the Japanese government announced it would convert its two Izumo-class ships into dedicated aircraft carriers, and that they would buy 42 F-35Bs. 

Izumo's conversion began in 2020 and was completed in July. In October, two US Marine Corps F-35Bs landed on and took off from Izumo's deck, becoming the first fixed-wing aircraft to operate from a Japanese carrier in 75 years. Kaga is expected to begin its conversion next year. 

Japan hopes to acquire its first 18 F-35Bs in 2023 or early 2024. They will be flown by Japan's air force and only embark on the Izumos for select missions.

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