Falklands Harrier hero raises fears over navy’s new aircraft carriers

HMS Queen Elizabeth in Rosyth
HMS Queen Elizabeth in Rosyth
  • Decorated fighter pilot who led navy’s Falklands air effort raises concerns about Britain’s new aircraft carriers to nation’s defence secretary
  • Commander Nigel “Sharkey” Ward says ships face a range of problems, including a bending hull, and that the navy’s new fighter jets are ‘extremely limited’ in their capability
  • Ministry of Defence refuted the claims, saying there were no ‘design anomalies’ and that it was confident in the capability of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier and the F35B
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A DECORATED Falklands fighter pilot has claimed the navy’s two new £6bn aircraft carriers face a ‘myriad of problems’ including a ‘dreadful design anomaly’ that causes the hull to bend.

Harrier hero Commander Nigel ‘Sharkey’ Ward was the commanding officer of 801 Naval Air Squadron during the 1982 war, based on aircraft carrier HMS Invincible.

Nigel 'Sharkey' Ward

Nigel 'Sharkey' Ward

Flying more than 60 missions, with three air-to-air kills using cannon fire and Sidewinder missiles, he was the campaign’s leading night pilot.

But now the war hero has written to the government’s defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon and head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, expressing his concerns over the new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers.

Cdr Ward claims the two giant 65,000-tonne vessels suffer from a ‘hogging of the hull’ – an issue that causes a ship’s centre to bend upwards.

And he says the navy’s new fighter jets, the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft – which are to replace the Harriers that were scrapped in 2010 – are ‘extremely limited’ in capability, especially in bad weather or heavy seas.

There is no design anomaly in the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, and the F-35B has been designed to operate from them in bad weather and heavy seas

Ministry of Defence

Cdr Ward wrote: ‘All of these problems and severe operational limitations need to be addressed immediately and solutions found – however draconian the latter are likely to be.

‘We need a powerful strike carrier-based navy with modern submarine and surface escorts now that can effectively contribute to the enforcement of international law as well as protect our island nation offshore interests – not in 15 years’ time or later.’

Hitting back, the Ministry of Defence denied Cdr Ward’s claims, saying they were untrue.

The MoD said ‘hogging’ of a ship’s structure was due to sea conditions and was a well-known phenomenon in naval architecture.

The MoD added it was confident the new carriers and F-35Bs would be able to operate in a wide range of conditions, including ‘moderate to heavy’ seas.

Speaking to The News, a source said: ‘There is no design anomaly in the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, and the F-35B has been designed to operate from them in bad weather and heavy seas.

‘We are confident that both platforms offer the best capability for our armed forces.’