As the sun rose over the Solent Britain’s biggest ever warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, made her first entrance into her home port at Portsmouth. Towering over the historic port she slid gracefully alongside the specially built jetty, close to Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory. It all looked so easy and straightforward, but behind this impressive spectacle lies years of hard work and careful planning. Today’s seamless arrival owes much to the crew and Captain, Jerry Kyd, whose professionalism and seamanship skills were very much on display.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the first of two new carriers the Royal Navy will soon have at its disposal. HMS Prince of Wales will join her sister ship in just over a year’s time. Together they form the most powerful and capable military assets the United Kingdom has ever had at its disposal, and they reaffirm the Royal Navy, our navy, as one of the world’s most capable maritime forces in the world. This restoration of national capability comes not a moment too soon. As an island and a maritime nation the United Kingdom is dependent on the sea for much of its trade, fuel and food. For Britain, a strong and capable Royal Navy is not a nice-to-have, but an essential pillar of State policy and infrastructure – and has been so since Henry VIII established the Royal Navy we know today.
Primarily, of course, the Carriers are military assets. Planes, helicopters, Royal Marines, troops from the Army, aircraft from the RAF, can all be accommodated on board. The Carriers enable the full range of military capability, at scale, anywhere in the world. For the first time in 30 years a British Prime Minister has at her disposal a full aircraft carrier. It was fitting that Theresa May was on the jetty as the ship arrived to greet and congratulate Captain Kyd and his crew for a job well done – recognition of the importance of the event.
The Carriers are primarily military assets, but they have other vital tasks too. They will provide significant platforms for trade events, diplomatic visits, intelligence gathering operations, and disaster relief and aid missions. Most importantly of all, the investment in the two Carriers represents a huge investment in Britain’s future, a clear sign we remain an outward looking and confident nation. For a Britain that voted for Brexit this is a vitally important signal to send. We are now reliant on our own resources and efforts, and the Carriers are a key part of the necessary infrastructure we need to reach out beyond our own shores. Governments, of whatever persuasion, will have to accommodate themselves to the idea that more money will be needed, in addition to what has already been allocated, to run a larger Royal Navy.
The Carriers are the latest investment in the Senior Service. The Royal Navy’s responsibilities stretch from our coastline to right around the world. It operates the Nuclear Deterrent as well as rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean; it protects out fishermen and fish stocks as well as fighting pirates off the Horn of Africa; it protects us from the increasing Russian presence around our shoreline as well as patrolling the Gulf. On the sea, under it, in the air, and, with unique and exceptionally highly trained Royal Marines, on the land too. The Service also provides the majority of the nation’s special forces. The Royal Navy is the most effective and capable of the Armed Forces and provides the single ‘biggest bang for the buck’ we have militarily.
HMS Queen Elizabeth’s arrival in Portsmouth starts a new era in our nation’s maritime sea power. It is a national event, and has rightly been treated as such by the Government. It will take time for Ministers and the rest of us to become used to it, but Britain once again is entering a new age as a major sea power.
Mark Fox is an Honorary Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve and affiliated to HMS Kent.