‘THIS is the year of a resurgent Royal Navy’ – that’s the message from the government as Portsmouth braces itself to welcome the biggest warship ever built by the UK to the city.
Final preparations are under way to finish the first of two, 65,000-tonne Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, which will usher in a new dawn of naval power.
2017 is the start of a new era of maritime power, projecting Britain’s influence globally and delivering security at homeSir Michael Fallon, defence secretary
It comes after one of the busiest years for the Senior Service since the end of the Cold War.
In the past 12 months, the navy has responded to Russian activity in the North Sea, English Channel and north Atlantic amid growing tensions between Moscow and the West.
And the force also supported EU and Nato-led operations in the Mediterranean and Aegean, as well as taking the fight to so-called Islamic State by supporting a US Navy task force in the Gulf.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon paid tribute to the navy’s efforts and said: ‘We are investing billions in growing the Royal Navy for the first time in a generation with new aircraft carriers, submarines, frigates, patrol vessels and aircraft all on their way.
‘This year is the start of a new era of maritime power, projecting Britain’s influence globally and delivering security at home.’
At the peak of activity last year, naval personnel were involved in 22 operations at home and abroad, serving in almost 30 ships, submarines, support vessels and Fleet Air Arm squadrons – 8,325 sailors and Royal Marines in all.
It’s a pace defence chiefs say will be maintained this year, with a third of the navy’s front-line strength on global operations in the first four months alone.
And a flotilla of new vessels will either commence build, be launched or delivered to the fleet as part of a multi-billion pound plan to expand the navy.
Key milestones for this year include:
n HMS Queen Elizabeth beginning sea trials and arriving in Portsmouth
n Her younger counterpart HMS Prince of Wales entering the water for the first time in the summer;
n Design and manufacture beginning on the multimillion-pound Crowsnest, the early-warning ‘eyes in the sky’ system for the helicopters that will protect the new carriers;
n Steel being cut on the first of eight Type 26 frigates in Glasgow this summer;
n The first of four Tide-class tankers, RFA Tidespring – crucial for supporting the new aircraft carriers – will arrive from South Korea in the spring to undergo UK customisation work;
n The first of the navy’s five next-generation patrol ships, HMS Forth starting sea trials in spring;
n The fourth Astute Class submarine entering the water for its commissioning phase in spring;
n The keel for the seventh and final Astute-class submarine – as yet unnamed – laid in the next three months.
Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP, said all this was fantastic news for the navy and for Portsmouth.
She said: ‘The whole nation will be watching HMS Queen Elizabeth come into her home port and she will be symbol of our ambitions for the UK.
‘The Royal Navy does so much – from helping fight crime, to keeping our trade routes open, to protecting the UK, and this year will be a chance to ensure everyone understands the breadth of that work and how vital it is to our way of life.’
Flick Drummond, Portsmouth South MP, called for the city to rally behind the navy – and urged young people to consider a career in the Senior Service.
‘This is an exciting time to be in the Royal Navy, with the two new aircraft carriers, the new Type 26 frigates and general purpose frigates,’ she said.
‘This shows the Royal Navy has a great future.’