Alphen, Netherlands. 26 June. On rare occasions I reserve the right to re-publish a blog almost word for word if an event warrants it. As I write, Britain’s new super aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is about to set sail for the first time to begin sea trials in the North Sea. The cynic in me wonders that if this mighty ship might last longer than the country that built her. It is certainly the case that the politicians in London and elsewhere in the UK are trying their damnedest to reduce Britain. Rarely, has Britain been so badly-led, and rarely has an official opposition been so lost to the land of the strategic and political fairies. Yet this blog is about strategic fundamentals if it is about anything, and ‘QE’ is at least a statement of hope that at some point Britain will again get leaders who recognise such fundamentals, rather than merely playing at strategy. Right now, she sits in her Rosyth dock, engines humming and her 700 strong crew busily preparing her for her maiden voyage. At around midday she will sail under the massive Forth Railway Bridge, itself a signature British engineering achievement from a previous age.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is also far more than a ship. Displacing 65,000 tons the ‘QE’ is the first of Britain’s 2 new super aircraft carriers. Her flight deck is the size of 60 Wimbledon tennis courts or 3 World Cup pitches. When commissioned in 2017 she will carry up to 50 aircraft in a hangar that is the size of 60 Olympic-size swimming pools. She is twice the width and some 90 metres longer than her predecessor HMS Illustrious. She is also a potent symbol of British power, unity, alliance and partnership that will fly the White Ensign the most famous flag of the most famous navy in the world. Indeed, a navy that in many ways made the modern world. In tandem with her future sister-ship HMS Prince of Wales she will act as a hub for a new type of agile and mobile global reach military power projection that will assure and ensure maritime and land security across the globe.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will exert influence and effect across three strategic spaces – the peace-space, the security-space, and the battle-space. Able to reach 80% of the world’s population she will act in crises as diverse as disaster relief and help prevent and deter full-blown war which cannot be ruled out in the hyper-competitive twenty-first century.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of national unity. She was built in sections at 6 shipyards across the United Kingdom. Indeed, she is perhaps the most innovative ship ever built with each section bought to Rosyth to be welded together. As some in Scotland contemplate secession she is a potent symbol of what this old great gathering of peoples can still achieve in the world together.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of alliance. She is testament to Britain’s determination to inject real power into both NATO and the EU. As Americans complain about burden-sharing or the lack of it here is a European ally that in spite of many challenges is willing to invest in the highest-end of high-end military capabilities. Alongside the new Type 45 destroyers and Astute-class nuclear attack submarines joining or soon to join the Royal Navy this great ship will put Britain at the heart of NATO and EU task groups. Indeed, her very existence will underpin all the navies across both the Alliance and Union.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of partnership. Britain made an historic mistake in the early 1970s by focusing exclusively on Europe and what became the EU. Whether Britain stays or leaves the EU this ship will help re-invigorate Britain’s traditional partnerships with countries like Australia, India and Japan (see history). She will also help reinforce key partnerships with close, powerful friends such as France and Germany. Critically, she will help keep America strong where America needs to be strong as Washington faces a growing gap between what it needs to be able to do and what it can afford to do. To that end, HMS Queen Elizabeth will be a vital partner of both the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps.
My belief in HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales has been absolute from the day they were conceived. This is not simply because of the power projection or fighting power the two ships will afford London or the Carrier-enabled Power Projection in the strategy-documents, or indeed because I favour the Royal Navy over the British Army or Royal Air Force. I do not. As I write in my recent book Little Britain (www.amazon.com) my belief in these ships is because of what they say about Britain and its future as a major power. This has nothing to do with Britannia ruling the waves, but rather the willingness of a twenty-first European state to confront political realism with imagination and determination built on the recognition that credible military capability still underpins all power and influence.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is a national strategic asset. She is an entirely appropriate statement of strategic ambition for one of the world’s leading political, economic and military powers and will serve Britain and its allies and partners out to 2060 and beyond. As such she will help reinvigorate the British strategic brand critical to keeping the West strong – the West that is today an idea rather than a place.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of my country; a ship and a country of which I am justly proud. HMS Queen Elizabeth is a big-picture ship of a big-picture country in a big-picture world. Let’s hope Britain really still is a big picture country.