Alternative scenario: UK went with Nuclear propulsion for CVF/QE Class

helmutkohl

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What if the UK opted to go for nuclear propulsion for its CVF/QE class carriers?

its often said that they went against it due to
- nuclear engineers being busy with the submarine construction
- being spooked by the Charles De Gaulle experiences

so
1. In what scenario could the UK practically build a carrier using nuclear propulsion?
2. Would it change the design of the ship? its complement?
3. In hindsight would it have been better?
 

CV12Hornet

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They'd need considerably more budget, for starters. Nuclear is expensive; I've seen estimates of a nuclear carrier being half again more expensive than a conventional carrier of similar capability. They'd also need a lot more reactor personnel, who are expensive in their own right.

Yes, it would lead to design changes. It would mean a very different propulsion layout; likely no split islands; and possibly catapults, as STOVL for cost savings makes a hell of a lot less sense when you're sinking this much money into the ships.

Would it have been better? Well, that depends on where you fall on the "two carriers versus one" argument. I personally think it's better for the RN to have two carriers even if they're less capable than the single nuclear ship, due to availability.
 

zen

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1. The obvious scenario is as a follow on from nuclear CVA-01 carriers built in the 70's.
1a. In light of AH Anglo-French CVN effort.
1b. Due to AH death of ASTOVL/JAST, refocus on CATOBAR CALF CV designs drives forward CVN. Possibly RAF gaining A12 Avenger as successor to Tornado.....

2. Yes and.....then again not as much as some suggest.

3. Yes and No and even more politically controversial than OTL.
 

helmutkohl

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Would it have been better? Well, that depends on where you fall on the "two carriers versus one" argument. I personally think it's better for the RN to have two carriers even if they're less capable than the single nuclear ship, due to availability.
this reminded me of CdG's issue.. would 2 conventional carriers would have been better than the 1 nuclear they went with
 

CV12Hornet

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Oof. Yeah, those construction and personnel problems pretty much scupper any chance of nuclear-powered carriers.
 

uk 75

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A Nimitz sized carrier with its full airgroup warrants nuclear power. But even the USN does not have nuclear powered LHA/LHD.
Any British carrier that can be afforded and crewed has to be closer to a US LHA/LHD in size than a Nimitz.
 

Hood

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I'd have to question what actual practical benefits would there be beyond switching to CTOL?
Plus you'd have to build some nuclear maintenance facilities at Devonport and that adds to the costs.

There are hints the PWR2 output has been throttled back by the available turbines for submarines, two PWR2 might be a little better than two K15 but probably not by much depending how big the CVFN gets.
 

Opportunistic Minnow

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I'm not entirely convinced of the case for carriers as is (I'm entirely content on the fence for that one). I'd certainly be loathe to make them more expensive and controversial. I have my doubts you could build them out of Rosyth if nuclear powered but won't go further because politics.
 

Siberia

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What if the UK opted to go for nuclear propulsion for its CVF/QE class carriers?
It's going to increase costs quite a bit. Design and construction will be more expensive, whilst you might make some savings on oil and tankers that will be offset by increased maintenance costs, and decommissioning will be significantly more involved and costly. There will also be increased personnel costs as nuclear propulsion is a much more specialised field, and you can bet that the civilian nuclear industry will try poaching people as soon as their minimum terms of enlistment are met. Throw in some new port facilities as well. The Admirals essentially traded away a large numbers of smaller ships to gain the two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, I'm not sure the extra money would be there for nuclear propulsion without cutting the Fleet to such a shadow of itself that the proposals would be laughable.

Another challenge is that once the ships are built there's going to be a large gap of possibly a decade or more until they need to go back in for refuelling and overhaul, that means you're going to have a hard time maintaining skills and knowledge. See the issues that have come up with nuclear submarine production. The US Navy with their ten nuclear aircraft carriers means they can launch one every few years and by the time they get towards the end of the line it's time to start carrying out Refueling Complex Overhaul (RCOH) programs on the earlier ships.

That does raise another question – if the Royal Navy acquired nuclear power aircraft carriers what happens when they need to undergo refuelling? The UK is never going to be able to have more than one facility so it will have to do it one after he other, assuming of course that they get two. Since the Americans, who have much more experience, can apparently take nearly three years to carry it out that means a potential five to six year gap where the UK will only have one active aircraft carrier. Even then they will still require time in port for regular maintenance so there would be periods where you might have no aircraft carriers available.

Could that really be justified against the larger costs involved? I'm not sure you could get away with it even if you built three aircraft carriers since IIRC the rule of thumb is three are needed to guarantee at least one is always available. The only way I can see it working is if the UK decided to forgo refuelling them and build new replacements after twenty-five years. That's going to mean larger costs spread across a smaller timeframe making them comparatively more expensive than American carriers.
 

kaiserd

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A nuclear powered CVF/ QE was an economic and political impossibility for the UK, unless paid for with deep cuts elsewhere (including the sub force, probably/possibly including reducing or phasing out the Trident deterrent force?)
And what overwhelming driver/ basis for switching to nuclear is there in this context? Why would this be needed and how would you justify/ sell nuclear aircraft carriers to other stakeholders and to the general public?
A project already in danger of being perceived as a vanity project (and which sceptics were already seeing as taking up to much resources) instead becomes a ludicrous white elephant that few will be willing to defend and most will happily see canceled (with cancellation a racing certainty).
 

zen

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It doesn't really make sense to produce CVN unless...
Unless it's going to operate very far from home waters for extended periods.
Unless it's part of substantial carrier force.
And frankly unless a lot of hard work and infrastructure was put in place back when ideas of a All Nuclear Fleet were being seriously considered.
For the UK that is back in the late 50's and early 60’s. We can actually narrow that down further to the idea of the Broked Back Roll. Were the RN carries on the fight after a Nuclear Exchange.

We can even see the glimmer of parts of such a plan in ideas for a scalable Nuclear propulsion set.
1 for Frigates and Destroyers.
2 for Cruisers.
3 to 4 for Carriers.

It would mesh with the power needs for NIGS (a sort if British Typhon SAM System) and OR.346 aircraft (sort of TFX like concept)
And frankly large Carriers able to tote the full Tactical Air Unit. Which means something over 68,000tons, 1000ft long etc.....

Not that all of that needs to happen or reach service to achieve a set of CVN. But enough work and infrastructure put in place to make some limited version of this happen.
 
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