The Queen Elizabeth class is a class of two aircraft carriers currently under construction for the Royal Navy. The first, HMS Queen Elizabeth was named on 4 July 2014, with her commissioning planned for 2017, and an initial operational capability expected in 2020. The second, HMS Prince of Wales is scheduled for launch around 2017, followed by commissioning in 2020 and service thereafter — on 5 September 2014, at the NATO summit in Wales, the Prime Minister announced that the second carrier will be brought into service, ending years of uncertainty surrounding its future.
The contract for the vessels was announced on 25 July 2007 by the then Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, ending several years of delay over cost issues and British naval shipbuilding restructuring. The contracts were signed one year later on 3 July 2008 after the creation of BVT Surface Fleet through the merger of BAE Systems Surface Fleet Solutions and VT Group's VT Shipbuilding which was a requirement of the UK Government.
The vessels currently have a displacement of approximately 70,600 tonnes (69,500 long tons), but the design anticipates growth over the lifetime of the ships. The ships will be 280 metres (920 ft) long and have a tailored air group of up to forty aircraft (though are capable of carrying up to fifty at full load). They will be the largest warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy. The projected cost of the programme is £6.2 billion.
The carriers will be completed as originally planned, in a Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) configuration, deploying the Lockheed Martin F-35B. Following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the British government had intended to purchase the F-35C carrier version of this aircraft, and adopted plans for Prince of Wales to be built to a Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) configuration. After the projected costs of the CATOBAR system rose to around twice the original estimate, the government announced that it would revert to the original design on 10 May 2012.