Britain’s biggest and most powerful warship can be used to “strike fear into the hearts of our enemies” – including Russia and North Korea, the Defence Secretary has said.
The newly-appointed Gavin Williamson stepped on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, the 280-metre, 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier, while the behemoth was completing the latest round of sea trials off the south coast.
Landing on the £3 billion carrier, marking his first time on a Royal Navy vessel, Mr Williamson said “you’d have to have no heart or soul not to be moved by such an amazing and impressive ship”.
When questioned about the relevance of the aircraft carriers in protecting the UK from emerging threats over the coming years, he said it gave Britain an “amazing capability”.
“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,” he said.
“When Russia sees this aircraft carrier – they have nothing like it in the world. This is the finest aircraft carrier in the world – it is leagues ahead of any other nation.
“We should take a great amount of pride in that, and we can use this to strike fear into the hearts of all our enemies and that is what it is designed to do, and I am sure that is what it will do.”
Embarking on to the four-acre flight deck on Thursday, Mr Williamson was met by commanding officer Captain Jerry Kyd, before enthusiastically touring the ship and speaking to the crew.
Whilst on board he announced that the Queen would formally commission the ship into the Royal Navy on December 7, something he said was a statement to the world about Britain’s ambition.
“This is very much about how Britain can project its influence and its power right across the world,” Mr Williamson said.
“It 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.”
During her working life the ship can be pressed into action for various tasks such as high intensity war fighting or providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
She will also serve as a floating military base for the F-35B stealth fighter jets that will launch from the deck to undertake missions.
The UK currently has 13 F-35s in the United States being tested ahead of flight trials off the ship next year, with one more plane being delivered by the end of 2017.
Capt Kyd said he and the ship’s company were delighted to host the Defence Secretary and give him the “full exposure of the best the Royal Navy has to offer”.
“Clearly he is a new pair of eyes and he’s been intrigued to meet a lot of the ship’s company and get a sense of the culture and the philosophy of the ship – and to see what the nation has bought,” he added.