HMS Queen Elizabeth, which this week left Leith Dockyards for sea trials, will fly the flag for Britain and one day become as iconic as Concorde, writes Alec Marsh
As Britain’s new 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, heads out for sea trials en route to Portsmouth, spare a thought.
That she cost nearly £3 billion to build, cannot be denied, nor, at 284 metres in length, can her sheer scale. What you might not see at first glance is her technological ingenuity: two-thirds the size of the US super carriers she can operate with barely a fifth of the crew – thanks in part to a highly advanced, ‘Amazon-style’ delivery system for her weapons, which transfer her arsenal from the bowels of the ship’s armoury all the way to the loading bays seven or eight floors up without being touched by human hand. It makes it safer, too.
Not only this, but Queen Elizabeth is unique in having two towers – one controlling air manoeuvres and a second controlling the ship and carrier group. This gives her and the future carrier group she will lead – which will include a destroyer, frigate, hunter-killer submarine – much greater resilience. And it’ll need to be resilient: such carrier group, once you include high tech aircraft will come with a combined list price of around £15 billion. And that doesn’t include training costs of the servicemen and women.
But more than this, in a world of cyber attacks, hypersonic missiles and more over her likely service period over the next 50 years, HMS Queen Elizabeth is going to live through changing times. When last year I interviewed the highly impressive captain of the ship, Commodore Jerry Kyd, he told me that he envisaged a future when the ship’s hangar – big enough to accommodate two Type 23 frigates – would be filled with drones, lasers and other weapons. For now, however, once she’s equipped with the F-35 fighter jets, she’ll be able to project more air power than Britain’s old three carriers put together – and some.
Moreover Kyd, a former commander of the Ark Royal, made it clear to me that wherever the Queen Elizabeth goes this ship with will fly the flag for Britain – both in defence and diplomacy terms but also for business. People will notice. She will make waves. And in doing so she’ll be the greatest advertisement possible for British manufacturing, technology and business that you can imagine, and he’s not wrong is he? Just look at the headlines she’s already drawn. In fact, he said that she would be Britain’s new Concorde – an icon for the nation. Spot on, I should say. Funnily enough, it’s quite likely that, she may go down – alongside the Brexit referendum of course – as one of the lasting legacies of the Cameron government, since it was his otherwise unloved defence spending review of 2010 that ensured she and her sister ship, the Prince of Wales, was built. Bravo to that.
Alec Marsh is editor of Spear’s