HMS Queen Elizabeth

The Defence Secretay says Russia will be looking at Britain's new aircraft carrier 'with envy', as she leaves her home port for the first time to begin sea trials.

HMS Queen Elizabeth, a 280-metre, 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier, is making her maiden voyage from Rosyth on the Firth of Forth.  

The Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, told the Telegraph:

"When you saw that old, dilapidated [Admiral] Kuznetsov [Russia's only aircraft carrier] sailing through the Channel a few months ago, I think the Russians will be looking at this ship with a little bit of envy."

When asked whether he was concerned about reports that Russia will spy on Queen Elizabeth during her sea trials in the North Sea, Sir Michael said:

"It's fairly routine for the Russians to collect intelligence on our ships. We'll take every precaution to make sure they don't get too close. But I think they'll be admiring her."

"They will try and get more information about the carrier, but we have ways and means, which I'm certainly not going into, of making sure the carrier is fully protected."

The Defence Secretary added that the occasion is a momentous one for Britain and its Armed Forces.

"[It's a] huge day for the Royal Navy. It's also a national moment [of importance] for our country.

"There are only three other countries in the world building aircraft carriers. We're building two aircraft carriers... the most powerful ships the Royal Navy's ever seen."

"They will enable us to strike against terrorists in the Middle East, they'll enable us to sail with NATO and American allies.

"They'll help us to keep the peace around the world and keep our country safe for the next half century."

HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is set to be the nation's future flagship, has taken more than eight years to build and is the first of two new carriers built since HMS Ark Royal was scrapped in 2010.

The Commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth has strongly defended the need for the ship, after questions were raised over its cost and relevance in a changing world.

Captain Jerry Kyd said the aircraft carrier remains an "incredibly flexible tool" despite its size:

"These ships are expensive, absolutely, but look at all the major nations around the world, they all have an aircraft carrier capability. Why is that?"

"The reason being is that (aircraft carriers) provide the government, very simply, with an incredibly flexible tool - it's not just about war fighting but deterrence, coercion, political signalling, providing a huge sea base for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.

"This is why as a national symbol, not just of military power projection but British ambition and being a global outward facing country, it would seem odd as a maritime nation not to have a Royal Navy that could do that job for you.

"They are symbols of national power. They are totemic symbols of your ambition, your need to be an outward-facing global Britain, ready to play its full part in the western defence of democracy and security around the world. You can't do that with nothing."

"The investment in these aircraft carriers for me is logical, it's rock solid and a strategic necessity.

"I think it's a pretty good investment, £6 billion for two ships, I think in 50 years time we'll look back and think that was extremely good value because they will be used a lot."

Captain Kyd expects the ship to attract interest from a variety of onlookers during its sea trials, including Russian submarines. He said:

"You don't sail an aircraft carrier of this scale without it attracting interest from all sorts of people."

"That can be friendly people on the beach waving, through to other state actors when we're offshore to see how we're getting on, but we expect that and are used to it.

"Everyone watches everyone else in the defence game, but we're looking forward to it, the more interest the better."

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