Air chief says UK has ‘absolute utility’ with carrier to act on Russia threat

Josh Payne
·3-min read

The Chief of the Air Staff has said the UK Government has “absolute utility” to act on the threat of Russia with the Carrier Strike Group.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston told the PA news agency he received valued advice from admirals who said “never ever expect a carrier deployment to go to plan” ahead of HMS Queen Elizabeth embarking on its maiden voyage.

The Ministry of Defence has said the F35B stealth fighter jets on board the £3 billion warship will join Operation Shader to fight the remnants of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – but Sir Mike said of the Russian threat: “Anything is possible and the world is an increasingly unstable place.”

Asked if he expected the stealth fighter jets to be redeployed to combat the threat of Russia, Sir Mike told PA: “A couple of wise old admirals I was chatting to a few weeks ago said to me ‘never ever expect a carrier deployment to go to plan. Something will always come up.’

“That’s very clear and valued advice.

“Anything is possible and the world is an increasingly unstable place.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth
An RAF F-35B Lightning jet preparing to take off from the flight deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth (LPhot Belinda Alker/MoD/PA)

He continued: “The Integrated Review recognised the strategic context is more uncertain, more dynamic and more complex.

“So the formidable force, the formidable air and maritime force that is the Carrier Strike Group as a whole, it provides absolute utility to the UK Government to act should it need to.

“And it brings to life what it means when we talk about the United Kingdom on a global stage.”

The Carrier Strike Group is set to make its way to the South China Sea, and asked whether he expected to intervene over rising tensions involving China, Sir Mike said he wanted to demonstrate the UK as a “problem-solving, burden-sharing nation active on the world stage”.

He told PA: “The Integrated Review which we completed last month identified that we would deepen our focus on the Indo-Pacific.

“It’s a region which is of critical importance to the United Kingdom – for our economy, for our security, for the environment, and for our global ambition to support an open and resilient international order.

HMS Queen Elizabeth
An RAF F-35B Lightning jet taking off from the deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth (LPhot Belinda Alker/MoD/PA)

“The UK is probably one of the most globally interconnected countries in the world and we rely on that international order for our security and for our prosperity.

“So through the Carrier Group, through all of our activity in the region, we will amplify our influence with allies and groups of countries, and we will do that through deeper partnerships and deeper alliances.

“We will work with a number of different air forces, a number of different navies as we progress through the deployment and that is to understand how they work, and they can understand how we work, so we work together.

“And we demonstrate the United Kingdom is a problem-solving, burden-sharing nation active on the world stage.”

Watch: G7 partners talk China, Russia