Michael Fallon: aircraft carrier critics ‘need to shut up’

HMS Queen Elizabeth. Picture: Royal Navy/MoD/Crown Copyright/PA Wire
HMS Queen Elizabeth. Picture: Royal Navy/MoD/Crown Copyright/PA Wire
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Armchair critics of Britain’s most powerful warship need to “shut up for a while”, said the Defence Secretary as he hailed the return of “big decks and fast jets”.

Whilst on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, the 280-metre, 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier, Sir Michael Fallon, who was visiting the ship for the first time while at sea, also praised it as “great for British industry”.

During his address to the crew gathered on the four-acre flight deck of the vessel on Monday, he said it had “been a while since HMS Illustrious”, adding: “But big decks and fast jets are now back.

“This ship is so much bigger than Illustrious and it combines, of course, sea power with air power.

“Already we have 10 F-35s being flown and trained in the United States. By the end of this year we will have 14 of those fast jets - the world’s most sophisticated fighter.”

The Defence Secretary also told the ship’s company it was time for the “armchair critics to shut up for a while”, adding that HMS Illustrious “has now gone”.

READ MORE: £3bn HMS Queen Elizabeth ‘vulnerable to low-cost missiles’

“But Queen Elizabeth, the biggest and the greatest warship this country has ever built, will go on now from these trials to defend our country, to safeguard our sea lanes, to work with our allies and partners to keep the peace, and to save lives across all seven seas,” he added.

When pressed on what he would say to the “armchair critics”, Sir Michael said: “They should come and see this wonderful flagship of the Royal Navy, which will help keep this country safe for 50 years to come.

“In a modern world, we need a strong Navy, we need an aircraft carrier, and from an aircraft carrier you need to be able to fly the best jets.”

The £3 billion behemoth is set to be the nation’s future flagship - her 700-strong ship’s company plus 200 contractors are currently sailing off the coast of Scotland for maiden sea trials.

During her estimated half a century working life, HMS Queen Elizabeth can be pressed into action for various work such as high-intensity war fighting or providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

Quizzed on how relevant the ship would be over the coming decades, Sir Michael, who stepped on to the carrier from a Merlin helicopter, said: “In a modern world we need aircraft carriers.”

He added: “The coalition would not have been successful in Iraq in defeating Daesh terrorism in Mosul without the strikes the American jets have flown from their aircraft carrier in the gulf.

“We can’t tell what the future will hold, or which part of the world the terrorist threat may next emerge. We can’t tell that now, so we have to be sure we can play our part with our allies in any of the seven seas.”

Sir Michael also said in his address that the “mighty aircraft carrier” was “great for British industry”, with many yards across the UK, thousands of people, and hundreds of apprentices and businesses involved in its creation.

“90% of it - British - 17 million parts. This ship is a floating showcase for British industry, British talent, British skills and British brainpower,” he added.

“This is a great day for Britain. There are only three other countries in the world building aircraft carriers - and we are building two.”

READ MORE: Paris Gourtsoyannis: Future of shipbuilding in Scotland unclear

The aircraft carrier and F-35B stealth fighter jets will provide the armed forces with a military operating base which can be deployed worldwide.

Four weeks ago HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed for the first time from Rosyth, under the authority of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, which is responsible for building and delivering the ship to the Royal Navy.

Since then, the initial period of sea trials, set to last around six weeks, have been taking place to test the fundamentals of the ship, including monitoring speed, manoeuvrability, power and propulsion, as well as undertaking weapons trials and additional tests on her levels of readiness.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to enter Portsmouth and be accepted by the Royal Navy towards the end of the year.

The second ship in the class, HMS Prince of Wales, is currently being fitted out in the Rosyth dock, and Sir Michael announced to the ship’s company that this second aircraft carrier would be officially named on 8 September.