Tomorrow is the biggest day for the Royal Navy since the Fleet returned from the Falklands War. HMS Elizabeth will enter Portsmouth for the first time tomorrow at the currently scheduled time of 07:10hrs. Six tugs will bring her in with a flypast of Merlin and Wildcat helicopters and Hawk jets from 736 Naval Air Squadron. The wind limit for safe entry for this huge ship is 15 knots. It is in the DNA of the people of Portsmouth to support the Navy and large crowds are expected.
The ship has been completing Phase 1 (machinery) trials since the 26th June which have apparently gone well apart from some propeller shaft issues which were attended to in Invergordon in a planned stop for refuelling and replenishment. Apparently the Captain and crew are happy with progress, not that we would know if they weren’t, but of course the ship is not yet commissioned into the Royal Navy. It is currently the property of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance until commissioning at which point the White rather than Blue Ensign will fly. Until then, (expected mid 2018), while the ship is the responsibility of it’s captain he must operate under direction of the sea trials manager.
When HMS Elizabeth is operational, and her soon to follow sister ship the Prince of Wales, the perception and reality of the United Kingdom as a meaningful strategic power will undergo a significant change, both within the country and beyond. These ships will give the United Kingdom the ability to conduct operations with flexibility at arms reach from home waters, quickly, (relative to deploying an Army Division), and efficiently. They will provide a platform to support ground operations overseas, they will exercise a demonstration of political will and force if required, they will provide air cover to Naval Task Forces and of course operate in support of humanitarian missions and as intelligence gathering platforms.
The bigger problem of course is that we don’t have many people in Westminster equipped either emotionally or intellectually to think strategically. Then we have the nagging concern that once they have new shiny toys in their play-pen they might be tempted to use them without judicious planning and forethought but that is a discussion for another day. For now, let Portsmouth and the ‘Andrew,’ celebrate.