Navy boss warns aircraft carriers are ‘vital’

SPEECH The First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope.   Picture: Steve Reid (121353-624)
SPEECH The First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope. Picture: Steve Reid (121353-624)
Picture: Malcolm Wells

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BRITAIN needs aircraft carriers to remain an effective global power, the head of the Royal Navy warned today.

The government’s 2010 defence cuts has left the nation without a fully functioning aircraft carrier with naval jets until at least 2018.

Today, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, said the ability to project air power from the sea is vital to wield influence around an uncertain world.

In an speech to the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in London, Admiral Stanhope stressed the importance of building the navy’s two new £6bn carriers, which are due to enter service in Portsmouth with the Joint Strike Fighter jet from 2018.

He said: ‘With its return, our ability to influence events ashore - whether by promoting stability, deterring aggression, or providing options for military intervention - will become correspondingly more effective.’

Admiral Stanhope pointed out that before HMS Ark Royal and the Harrier jets were axed in 2010, the UK’s aircraft carriers were used almost every year since the Second World War.

He said: ‘For the UK, the year 1989 is instructive. I say that, not because it was the year the Berlin Wall came down, but because it was the only year between 1945 and 2010 that the UK did not deploy her carriers in support of her national interests.’

He added: ‘To put it simply, countries that aspire to strategic international influence have aircraft carriers and countries that have them, use them.

‘Air power from the sea was an important part of our national story last century and it will continue to be a vital part of our national story this century.’

Defence minister Gerald Howarth, also speaking at RUSI, emphasised the importance of international efforts to stop piracy in the seas off Somalia.

‘If we do not tackle it off the Horn of will be replicated in other parts of the world,’ he said.

‘The human costs are sobering - hundreds of unfortunate men and women have been taken hostage. The economic effects and consequences are also potentially dire, both for the maritime industry and the wider global economy.’