By Dr Chris Ware
With HMS Illustrious paying off and HMS Queen Elizabeth named but not due run sea trials until 2016 and be fully operational until 2020, it will fall to HMS Ocean to fill the role as both Flagship of the Royal Navy and helicopter platform. However as Illustrious leaves service it begs a bigger question what do we want the Royal Navy to be able to do? If in due course we have both the Queen Elizabeth and Princes of Wales, and that is a very big if, they would be powerful players when they receive fixed wing aircraft. However with a limited number of frigates and destroyers will the RN be a single battle group Navy able to put carrier and escorts, both sub and surface, into theatre, but with few ships left for anything else?
This speaks to a larger issue, which may seem unrelated, the fate of Illustrious once she leaves the Navy. Preserving ships is not cheap, what are we trying to say by doing so? That we were a sea power, however in a changing world Britain has to be mindful of cost and of what the nation can afford? Is that the lesson of history? Perhaps not. Historically Britain has had a Navy even when it seemed she could not afford one. People like the idea of visiting historic ships, both naval and merchant, but what they forget is that to create history you have to participate, and in unstable world sea power is even more important. Illustrious is worth saving because she of what she has done.