The new Queen Elizabeth class supercarriers will represent a “powerful and important strategic conventional deterrent” according to the First Sea Lord.
Admiral Sir Philip Jones First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff said at a ceremony announcing the naming of No. 207 Squadron as the F-35 OCU squadron:
“HMS Queen Elizabeth is the first carrier in the world designed from the outset to operate a fifth generation combat aircraft. Crucially, a second ship – HMS Prince of Wales – is on its way, which will give the UK a continuous Carrier Strike capability.
I have every expectation that, in time, this combination of carriers and jets will represent a powerful and important strategic conventional deterrent.”
The ships former commanding officer, Captain Simon Petitt, pointed out that there is a lot of symbolism in modern warfare and that having a ship the size of HMS Queen Elizabeth, which will be the navy’s biggest ever, was significant.
The sight of a heavily equipped 70,000 tonne carrier, which is almost 300 metres long, heading towards a potential enemy had a deterrent effect that is essential if the UK wants to project influence across the world Petitt claims.
“It is massively visible, you can range back in history and see the value of this. Everything from Nelson deterring Admiral Villeneuve from leaving Cadiz all the way to the big battleships of early 20th century, to what we are doing now.
The Americans use it all the time. We currently haven’t got this level of carrier capability. The bigger the capability the more influence you have to bear.”
So great is the impact of larger vessels as a deterrent, they’re often used as a geopolitical chess piece. American governments have, since the second world war, moved aircraft carriers around to demonstrate American resolve.
The particular benefits of using carriers in this way are that they operate on the high seas, where permission is not needed from other countries.
Indeed, since modern US carriers are large and imposing they “show the flag” to great effect due to their sheer size alone. Equally, it is often argued that had the Royal Navy had two full sized carriers in 1982 it is more than possible that Argentina would not have attempted to take the Falklands in the first place.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to start fixed-wing flight trials with F-35Bs off the eastern coast of the US towards the end of the summer of 2018.