£3bn aircraft carrier 'sets Britain apart' and makes UK 'a player'

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Britain's new £3 billion aircraft carrier will allow the UK to take its place at the top table of the world's military powers, a senior commander has said.

Commodore Andrew Betton said the flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth was "firmly the right thing" for the UK to invest in, given its role as a permanent member of the United Nations security council.

Other military leaders said the Queen Elizabeth and its sister ship HMS Prince of Wales would mark Britain as a player on the world map, and be able to match the capabilities of the larger fleet of US warships.

Members of Britain's new carrier strike group are engaged with the US Navy and other international allies in Exercise Saxon Warrior, aboard American aircraft carrier the USS George HW Bush.

The 97,000-tonne and 1,092ft Nimitz class aircraft carrier was off the coast of Scotland on Sunday in the latest phase of the war game, ahead of the UK's carrier strike group setting up on the Queen Elizabeth in the coming months.

Cmdr Betton, commander of the Royal Navy's carrier strike group, told the Press Association the two new carriers marked a huge step for UK defence that would "usher in a new era of carrier strike activity".

Speaking aboard USS George HW Bush, he added: "Carrier enabled power projection, which is the formal term for this capability, offers strategic choice to Her Majesty's Government.

"The ability to scale from humanitarian assistance, response to natural disasters, through to a poise to try and deter a potential conflict and if necessary to engage as a serious tier one partner in the international coalition to take our place at the top table.

"As a United Nations permanent security council member, I feel it's firmly the right thing for the United Kingdom to be doing."

The Royal United Services Institute recently warned that the £3 billion carrier could be disabled with a single strike from a relatively cheap missile costing less than £500,000, and sunk by multiple missiles.

Other recent warnings around the Queen Elizabeth have concerned its technology and vulnerability to cyber attack, as well as the number of ships and maritime aircraft available to protect it.

Captain Ken Houlberg, the UK carrier strike group chief of staff, said the capability delivered by an aircraft carrier and strike group "sets that nation on the world map - it's a player".

He added: "It's got hard power tools that can deliver capability across the spectrum of conflict, from humanitarian and disaster relief through defence engagement to full high-end war fighting with our coalition allies.

"It sets Britain apart."

Both men were also confident the UK's two carriers could compete with the American fleet, with the USS George HW Bush one of 10 in the US Navy.

Cmdr Betton said the two British carriers would operate at a high state or readiness, with one or the other always available at short notice to undertake carrier strike operations.

Cpt Houlberg added: "We've got to get from two carriers the sorts of things the Americans get from a lot more, and that's going to be quite a challenge, but it's something I'm confident we can deliver."