The British Navy used to “rule the waves” around the world’s oceans during the centuries of the British Empire. In the post-World War II era, the British Navy steadily dwindled to a much smaller size. When Argentina seized the Falkland Islands during the 1980s, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had to scrape together military and civilian maritime assets to mount a successful rescue of the Islands. In the aftermath of “the end of the Cold War,” the British military diminished to an even-smaller size. Indeed, all the NATO nations allowed their military forces to atrophy.
Given the above realities, it was a bit of good news to learn that the British have already built and are about to commission the largest aircraft carrier in the history of the British Navy. A second large British carrier is also being built and will be ready in a few years. The first link, from a British government website, discusses the “float up” of the new HMS Queen Elizabeth, and it includes a video clip of the event. The second link describes the new carrier’s size, capabilities and weaponry. It reports that the new British carriers will each be approximately the length of three American football fields and will displace approximately 71,000 tons (a US Navy supercarrier of the Nimitz class displaces approximately 100-104,000 tons). By comparison, the third link reports that the previous British aircraft carriers, the Invincible class, displaced only 22,000 tons (three were built and two have been scrapped). This means the new British carriers will be over three times larger than the previous class of British aircraft carriers.
The new British carriers are designed to handle the naval variant of the new F-35 warplane. There has been controversy about whether to build the second large British aircraft carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales, but British Prime Minister David Cameron is firm in his commitment to build it (fourth link). Cameron is now in a much firmer position to get his way in building the second large carrier after Cameron’s Conservative Party decisively won the recent British Parliamentary elections.
In a related story, approximately a year ago, the British navy received delivery of its 3rd in a new class of modern, nuclear-powered attack submarines (fifth link). The new submarine has two sister ships already in service and five more are under construction.
I’ll offer a few additional comments regarding the new British aircraft carriers. Although the carriers were built to handle the new F-35 warplane, the new carriers could put to sea with a complement of Harrier V/STOL fighters of the type that flew off the decks of the previous, smaller British carriers. However, aircraft carriers need a screen of protective warships such as cruisers, destroyers and frigates. The British Navy currently has only six destroyers and 13 frigates in service (sixth link), and a new class of surface warship on the drawing board is years away from deployment (last link). The two large carriers will need a large protective screen of other surface combatants. By the time the new British carriers are deployed on combat patrols, the British Navy will need effective screening vessels. I wonder if the British Navy would consider buying some recently-retired US Navy destroyers and frigates and simply upgrading their shipboard systems. That would be a much cheaper “quick fix” to the British navy’s need for sufficient numbers of surface combatants to escort the new carriers and perform other missions. Since we know from Ezekiel 38-39 that a World War III looms in our future, the military developments of the major nations are quite relevant to how that war will be fought.
I’ll close on a personal note. The sixth link lists 77 warships in the current British Navy, but two are “historic” vessels (like the USS Constitution of the US Navy). One British historic vessel is Lord Nelson’s famous ship-of-the-line, HMS Victory, which is on exhibit in Portsmouth, England. In 1978, I was in Great Britain and took a train to Portsmouth from London to tour that ship. It was a marvelous experience. Going below-decks, one realizes the average British sailor of the Napoleonic War period was either a lot shorter than today or walked stooped over much of the time. The HMS Victory also set sail with livestock on board for meat, dairy products, eggs, etc. It was exciting and personally very moving to walk the weather deck of the HMS Victory and realize Admiral Nelson himself stood on it as his ship and fleet attacked the French fleet at Trafalgar in one of the British Navy’s greatest victories.
If he could come to life momentarily, Lord Nelson, I’m sure, would be pleased to see that the construction of the new British aircraft carriers shows the British Navy is still a fighting force. For what its worth, so am I.