HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Portsmouth for historic US trip, amid rumours of potential Trump visit

Warship will first dock in New York and trial landing F-35B fast jets on deck for the first time

Kim Sengupta
Saturday 18 August 2018 08:35
Comments
New Royal Navy aircraft carrier HSM Queen Elizabeth 'well protected' from Russia threat

“Having the aircraft carriers maintains our credibility, without the aircraft carriers it would dilute it. Not to have an aircraft carrier at sea, to denude yourself of them, would be a folly,” declared Captain Jerry Kyd.

“We remain an island nation with obligations. For national security reasons it is essential we have to maintain a strong capability.”

The commanding officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth was speaking on the bridge of the aircraft carrier as she prepared to depart from Portsmouth for America and trials to land F-35B fast jets on deck for the first time, the final crucial preparations as the 65,000 tonne ship comes into service.

The carrier will dock first in New York and there are rumours that Donald Trump will come on board, which may be consolation for him after the military parade he ordered was postponed by the Pentagon with costs climbing to $92m (£69.5m).

Captain Kyd did not know whether the presidential visit will happen. “I wish he would,” he said before going on to point out why, in his view, the Queen Elizabeth and her sister carrier HMS Prince of Wales were imperative for Britain in the face of Russian aggression, Chinese expansion and the unpredictability about North Korea’s nuclear programme.

The Kremlin, he believes, is the most immediate threat. “Without these two ships I think we would be struggling to remain credible as a first-class sea power,” the Captain said to a group of journalists.

“The increase in Russian submarine activity has been frightening, it has been quite eye-watering what we have seen over the past two years.

“We have seen a huge increase in Russian activity in the maritime area; we need to respond to that.

“When you see how active as Russia has been you have to recognise that they do not spend all that money and do all this activity just for a laugh.”

But it is the money spent on the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales – £6.2bn – while the defence budget is being slashed across the board, which has led to fierce criticism, some of it coming from the military.

For General Lord Richards, the former head of the Armed Forces the programme is having a “huge distorting effect” on the defence budget. “Now we have the carriers we have to make them work” he acknowledged, “but you make them work at the expense of the rest of the Navy, the RA, and the Army”.

Lord Richards, who had been an opponent of the carrier programme when he was Chief of Defence Staff, rejects the notion that the two ships would project the UK back into being a major military power able to take part in far flung conflicts on, for example, the China Seas or off the Korean peninsula.

“For Britain, with its Army of 78,000 and its Navy of 20 frigates and destroyers, to have the conceit to think it can fight a war in the Far East is almost laughable,” he said.

“Our practical role should be confined to Nato, Africa and the Middle East. We lost all other capability not just in the recent cuts, but in the cuts in the early 90s, at the end of the Cold War.”

Major General Jonathan Shaw, who was in charge of the SAS as Director of Special Forces, also points to the problem caused by cost of the carriers.

“Most of the tasks they would perform can be done through cheaper alternative means. The cost has imbalanced the budget . The Army made its cuts two years ago, but it’s still suffering because of the carriers, it has also had a damaging effect on the Navy as well”, he stated.

Some critics of the carriers can barely contain themselves in the vituperation of their disapproval.

Max Hastings, the military historian and commentator wrote: “I have compared these boats to the ancient Egyptian pyramids: they have consumed immense resources while possessing almost zero utility.

“At least the pyramids are amazing to look at; I doubt in years to come a single tourist will visit Portsmouth to see the QE rotting at its moorings. If I sound intemperate, it is because many people who care passionately about Britain’s defences have been warning for years that the carriers would prove a disaster.”

The criticism is refuted by the supporters of the carriers. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “ HMS Queen Elizabeth is a true statement of our national power and the whole country can be proud to see this magnificent symbol of our engineering prowess and international ambition leaving port to sail onto the world stage.

“Her voyage to America not only shows her global reach, but strengthens our special relationship with the US Forces who have worked hand-in-hand on this iconic programme.”

Commodore Andrew Betton, commander of UK Carrier Strike Group also wanted to stress the “iconic” nature of programme.

“These first F-35B embarked trials in a UK aircraft carrier are not only key to future operational success but represent an iconic moment for the modern Royal Navy”, he said.

“At the heart of our Maritime Task Group, the aircraft carrier is well protected and sustained, ready to operate around the world as a potent and exceptionally flexible instrument of our foreign policy.”

As the media departed the Queen Elizabeth, Captain Kyd warned: “No negative stories please, otherwise we’ll come and bomb you!”

There will probably be no need for that; but a ceasefire from the critics of the carrier programme remains unlikely in the near future.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in