Speaking to us on the bridge of HMS Queen Elizabeth shortly before departure for the US, the Captain, Jerry Kyd spoke about aircraft carriers and some broader naval strategic issues.
Asked to give some context to the new ships coming into service, he said: “The actions we are seeing from the Russian military show a pretty clear intent and are a reminder to the UK of its obligations to NATO and, from a sovereign perspective, the need to maintain sufficient forces, maritime especially, to do the job that’s required.” Underlining the compelling case for UK aircraft carriers, he added: “We remain an island nation with worldwide obligations, not least foreign overseas territories and contingencies to operate from the South China Sea to the Baltic, or indeed across the world. There is no point having a carrier of this size and keeping her in home waters, the RN must be able to operate at range from UK. Navies with real power projection capability have carriers and nuclear submarines and I think our carriers will probably be used quickly and strategically. We are always useless at predicting the next conflict… ”
Kyd clearly places a very high value on the UK-US alliance: “Our two carriers give us credibility, particularly with our key ally the United States, operating the same aircraft variant with the US Marine Corps reinforces that strategic bond. The carriers, together with intelligence sharing and nuclear submarines are three big strands in that linkage. Integrating the Americans into this project from so early on is a great thing. You can’t surge trust, but you need to be able to respond to events quickly. I wouldn’t like to predict where in the world that will be – but the important thing is that we are trained, enabled, supported and ready to operate together.”
Taking a view on a Royal Navy presence in the Pacific region, he added: “China is investing in a rapidly expanding, blue water navy after thousands of years without that capability. We recognise the need to work with partner navies to uphold the rule of law at sea to maintain peace and security for our joint prosperity. Since the second world war, we have had a rules-based order that has prevented large-scale war and made us all more prosperous, thanks in large part to organisations like the UN and NATO. Sometimes we fail to recognise how amazing this is in the history of humankind. Having a navy is important because this can’t be done with words alone. If law and order are not respected, friction increases and the likelihood of state-on-state conflict increases. It is our important duty to uphold these rules.”
Questioned about the specific vulnerability of carriers to the underwater threat, he responded: “Firstly I would point out nothing is invulnerable, no human, no building, no vehicle, no ship. But it’s my job, along with my battle staff, whatever operational challenge we are given, to do the analysis carefully and mitigate the threats as best we can. Anti-submarine warfare is just one part the threat-reduction thought process which may include cyber, missile, aircraft and surface ships, it’s a very complicated beast which is why we need the best equipment.” There is no sense of complacency here, the safety of the people under his command are often on the captain’s mind. There is an implication in statements by senior naval officers that the deployment of QE in high threat areas will be restricted or very dependent on coalition partner support. In a gentle reminder that the RN needs more resources, he concluded by saying: “There is an obligation on the British taxpayer, if you are going to send out our young people to potentially risk their lives, they need the right kit”.
These comments may be seen as Kyd merely delivering ‘the official navy line’ but although quietly spoken, he becomes steely-eyed and passionate when talking about his subject. This is a credible voice worth listening to, with arguments moulded by the experience of many years of naval operations. As the figurehead for the iconic QEC project, in the last 18 months, he has been continually called upon to speak to journalists and media and should be commended for remaining so friendly, patient and diplomatic.
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