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On Monday, June 26, HMS Queen Elizabeth finally set sail for testing after years of setbacks. While HMS Queen Elizabeth is being tested in the North Sea, there is a huge possibility that Russia will be observing the tests of the new state-of-the-art aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy to see what the capabilities are of the new aircraft carriers. But recently there has been a clash of words between Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and the Russian military.It started when Michael Fallon had said Russian vessels would be looking at sea trials of the Navy’s 65,000-ton warship “with a little bit of envy” because its own carrier Admiral Kuznetsov was so old and dilapidated.
The Russian military has responded to British mockery of its aging aircraft carrier by declaring that the Royal Navy’s new flagship is nothing more than “a large, convenient target” and pointing to the Admiral Kuznetsov’s array of missiles and warned HMS Queen Elizabeth should keep its distance.
Russia's Defence Ministry had also responded with "rapturous statements ... about the supremacy of the new aircraft carrier's beautiful exterior over the Russian aircraft-carrying cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov expose Fallon's utter ignorance of naval military science."
So this got me thinking, do we need aircraft carriers in today's modern navies?
The concept of launching aircraft from ships has been around since before WW1 with the HMS Hibernia being the first ever ship to be able to launch an aircraft but it wasn't until 1918 that the first aircraft carrier was built, HMS Argus.
Since the birth of the aircraft carrier, they have gained an important role for the state and changed naval strategy. They were important during the offensive in the Pacific campaign against Japan, in the Korean war and for the UK during the Falklands war.
Aircraft carriers allow a state to be able to send aircraft anywhere around the world without having to cross neutral state boundaries and they are able to send air crafts to places where they wouldn't usually be able to go and to be able to target positions which would not normally of been possible without them.
For maritime states like the US and the UK, a strong Navy is needed to protect itself from invasion and for the US and UK where most of its exports and imports come by sea, they need strong Navies to protect the economy.
The US and the UK have a lot of overseas commitments and relations and sometimes will need to send many aircraft somewhere around the world quickly and safely as possible and for this to happen they will need aircraft carriers for them to be transported.
Aircraft carriers allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without depending on local bases for staging aircraft operations, which gives navies an offensive capability. Aircraft carriers are expensive to build but are critical assets.
There is a view that modern anti-ship weapons systems, such as torpedoes and missiles, have made aircraft carriers obsolete as too vulnerable for modern combat. On the other hand, the threatening role of aircraft carriers has a place in modern asymmetric warfare, like the gunboat diplomacy of the past. Furthermore, aircraft carriers facilitate quick and precise projections of overwhelming military power into such local and regional conflicts.
For now states still see a strategic value in having aircraft carriers with the UK building two new aircraft carriers, India looking into expanding its aircraft carrier fleet and with the US looking to upgrade its carriers. for the foreseeable future, we will still be seeing aircraft carriers around for some time yet.