Portsmouth, England—The Royal Navy is close to getting an aircraft-carrier at last.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is undergoing the final sea trials in Southern England, will be commissioned on December 7th.
“In a world of intensifying global threats, this magnificent ship will be a leading force fighting to protect the values of the UK and our allies,” said the new Secretary for Defence Gavin Williamson.
The 65,000-ton ship began her sea trials last month. They included tests on its platform stability, manoeuvrability, and readiness capabilities.
The next and final step before being deemed operational are the flight trials. HMS Queen Elizabeth’s 280-feet flight deck will be hosting the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, the maritime version of the expensive jet that is capable of short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) operations. Currently, 12 UK F-35Bs are tested in the US before joining the ship next year. The ship will able to carry 70 F-35Bs, plus helicopter squadrons.
The F-35B, the maritime version of the stealth jet (Wikimedia.org).
“We have worked so hard to get this ship to where it is now and built – but it is the final piece of the jigsaw,” said Captain Jerry Kyd, the ship’s commander.
Her sister vessel, HMS Prince of Wales, is still being built. It’s expected to join the fleet in 2020.
Both ships come with an almost $4 billion price tag.
Many in Britain have questioned the value of having two aircraft carriers in an era of low-intensity conflicts. Indeed, some have described the ships as two big, expensive targets.
But others have pointed out that this era is ending and that challenges from nation-states once more become the more serious threats to the West.
“Let’s not underestimate the growing threat from Russia and North Korea. These are countries that want to damage Britain, these are countries that want to undermine Britain,” said Secretary Williamson.
But to be effective, the new aircraft carriers need the proper logistical and defensive support. The United Kingdom has been slicing its defence budget for some time. And the government, following the Brexit uncertainty, further cuts. Over the next decade, the British military is facing a budgetary gap of around $40 billion to $50 billion.
Moreover, the government is considering slashing the 6,640 strong Royal Marine Commandos by 1000 and sell the UK’s only two amphibious assault ships, HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion.
In addition, the MoD is considering reducing the size of the British Army from 82,000 to 65,000.
The latest manpower figures also reveal a 3.5% shortage in the Royal Navy.
So, for the Government to say that the aircraft carriers “is how we can say to the rest of the world, we are not a nation in retreat, we are a nation that wishes to play a significant part in world affairs,” rings rather hollow.