BRITAIN’S new aircraft carrier will sail to the Pacific on her maiden deployment as tensions continue to flare with China, the defence secretary announced.
The mighty 65,000-tonne warship will to travel to the region as part of her first operational mission in 2021.
It comes amid controversial action by Beijing, which has been involved in a dispute over navigational rights and territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Accompanied by a complement of UK and US F-35B stealth jets, Portsmouth-based Queen Elizabeth will also visit the Mediterranean and Middle East, defence secretary Gavin Williamson said.
The Tory bigwig revealed the plan for the £3.1bn warship while he set out his vision for a more ‘global Britain’ – which included plans to create a new breed of strike ships.
Mr Williamson said the nation must be prepared to take military action against countries that ‘flout international law' or risk being seen as a ‘paper tiger’.
As part of the defence revamp, the UK is looking at plans to invest in a new class of assault ships capable of transporting Royal Marines and special forces into battle.
Known as littoral strike ships, the vessels would operate as a platform to deploy amphibious troops, working as part of a new strike group.
Two would be built and forward-deployed, with one based to the east of Suez in the Indo-Pacific and one to the west of Suez in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Baltic.
The vessels can carry everything from helicopters and fast boats to underwater automated vehicles and huge numbers of troops and able to sail close to land.
‘These globally deployable, multi-role vessels would be able to conduct a wide range of operations from crisis support to war fighting,’ Mr Williamson said. ‘They would support our future Commando force, our world renowned Royal Marines – they will be forward-deployed at exceptionally high readiness and able to respond at a moment's notice, and bringing the fight from the sea to land.’
With top brass in attendance, including the head of each service, Mr Williamson added that ‘Brexit has brought us to a great moment in our history’.
‘A moment when we must strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality and increase our mass,’ he said. ‘As we look to life beyond Brexit, I believe it is incumbent on us all to consider the role of defence in our national life.
‘Defence has always been the first and most vital duty of government, but now we have an unparalleled opportunity to consider how we can project and maximise our influence around the world in the months and years to come.’
Major General Charlie Stickland, commandant general Royal Marines, welcomed the announcement to ‘accelerate the concept and assessment stages of future littoral strike ships’ and said it brought the Commandos ‘one step closer to realising our ambitions for the future commando force’.
However, Labour shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith was still worried. She said: ‘The Conservatives have slashed the defence budget by over £9bn in real terms since 2010 and they are cutting armed forces numbers year after year.
‘Instead of simply engaging in yet more sabre-rattling, Gavin Williamson should get to grips with the crisis in defence funding that is happening on his watch.’