Remarks by National Security Advisor Ambassador Robert O'Brien at the 2019 Atlantic Future Forum on Board the HMS Queen Elizabeth in Annapolis, Maryland
As prepared for delivery by National Security Advisor Ambassador Robert O'Brien at 2019 Atlantic Future Forum on November 21, 2019
Thank you for the kind introduction. I appreciate your generous hospitality on board today.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honor to be here on the Queen Elizabeth. I bring you greetings from the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. President Trump has made rebuilding the United States military and naval power a centerpiece of his presidency. He is grateful for our allies such as the United Kingdom, who are fairly sharing the burden of the defense of the West by commissioning ships such as this one.
I have watched the Queen Elizabeth's progress from her keel being laid to her christening, to her sea trials to her participation the recent Westlant 19 exercise. While a bit smaller than their Nimitz and Ford class cousins, the Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales are certainly super carriers. Their advanced systems and air wings comprised of F-35Bs make these carriers incredibly efficient and lethal.
I have a remote family connection to British naval aviation. My sister, for better or for worse, is married to an Englishman, Rob Johnson. His grandfather, Able Seaman Joseph Arthur Johnson of Brighton, enlisted in the Royal Navy in late 1938. He served aboard HMS Ark Royal (R91) where he was an air defense gunner on twin 40mm Bofors known as "pom-poms". He was aboard the ship when Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers from the Ark Royal fatally disabled the German battleship Bismark on 26 May 1941. He was on the ship when she was torpedoed by Uboat 81 on 14 November 1941. Fortunately, AS Johnson, survived the attack despite being a non-swimmer.
From the commissioning of the first Seaplane carrier, HMS Ark Royal in 1914, the Royal Navy and the Fleet Air Arm have been at the forefront of naval aviation innovation and combat excellence.
More recently, although it is hard to believe that the events took place 37 years ago, those of us with some gray hair watched on TV as the UK naval task force lead by carriers HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible sailed to the South Atlantic to retake the Falkland Islands. The embarked Sea Harriers conducted combat air patrols, sunk enemy ships, engaged Argentine aircraft and provided close air support to British ground troops as they campaigned across the islands. It was an impressive display of the high capability of a British carrier strike group operating far from home.
It was thus with great concern that I wrote a piece in October 2010 entitled: Is this the end of the Royal Navy? I noted:
"British Navy chiefs are confirming that after losing their only carrier at the end of this year, HMS Ark Royal, the UK will not have a fully operational aircraft carrier until 2036. After the devastating cuts, the British Navy will be at its smallest size since the time of Henry VIII and will be roughly half the size of the current French Navy."
I went on to write:
"China always seems to be a winner these days and is again now. Instead of the US being able to rely on a robust British presence in the Atlantic that would have allowed it to shift more warships and carriers to the Pacific, the US must continue to split its dwindling Naval resources between the two oceans. China's announcement last week that it is launching 30 new patrol boats in the aftermath of the Senkaku Island incident with Japan makes the British cuts even harder for the West to bear."
I cannot be more pleased that my alarm of nine years ago has been replaced by a renewed confidence in the Royal Navy as I stand upon this magnificent warship. Further, earlier this year the United Kingdom announced that the Queen Elizabeth's first operational deployment in 2021 will be to the Indo Pacific. Her air wing on that patrol will include Fleet Air Arm and RAF F-35Bs and US Marine Corps F-35Bs in addition to its robust rotary wing component. What a great boost it will be to Britain's allies and friends in the Indo-Pacific to have the QE on station. The Queen Elizabeth's deployment will send an important message to China that the West retains the capability and will to protect Indo-Pacific sea lanes.
It has long been White House lore that in a crisis, the first question an American president asks is "where are the carriers." These ships are several acres of floating sovereign territory that do not rely on the fickle whims of a foreign partner that might or might not grant permission to conduct offensive air operations from a far flung base.
Their air wings, now made up of advanced 5th Generation fighters, can provide air supremacy for the surface fleet and a deadly strike capability against an adversary's naval, air or ground forces.
Even with the latest supersonic and hypersonic missiles fielded by our peer competitors, their speed and mobility makes these ships hard to target. I firmly believe that predictions of the obsolescence of the carrier are premature and that 25 years from now, the Queen Elizabeth will still be performing her mission.
I can tell you that your US Navy colleagues at INDO-PACOM and across the world are eagerly awaiting the Queen Elizabeth's deployment to their AORs. When it comes to maritime allies and interoperability, there is no greater partner to the United States Navy than the Royal Navy.
Accordingly, it should not surprise anyone here that when USS Abraham Lincoln transited the Strait of Hormuz this week, one of her escorts was Air Defense Destroyer HMS Defender. The Lincoln and Defender are sending a powerful message to the Islamic Republic of Iran that the Persian Gulf will remain open for business and that Iran should think twice before attacking the US, UK or our allies. Such a presence deters Iran and strengthens the resolve of our partners in the region.
Meeting with our UK colleagues and friends on a warship requires a brief mention of perhaps the most important seaborne meeting ever between the leaders of any two nations.
On 9 August 1941, Winston Churchill left HMS Prince of Wales to join Franklin Roosevelt aboard USS Augusta. In addition to discussing the War and the Atlantic Charter, the Prime Minister and President took time out to select hymns for the following day's service at sea. "O God Our Help In Ages Past," Churchill's favorite, was given pride of place, followed by Roosevelt's choice: "Eternal Father Strong to Save." "Onward, Christian Soldiers" was also included.
According to Canadian historian Ron Robbins, "Sunday was bright with welcome sunshine. American and British seamen stood not in formal ranks, but mingled as they wished: they spoke the same tongue and knew survival depended on their loyalty and courage. Roosevelt and Churchill were accompanied by their Chiefs of Staff. The magnificent bay and hills resounded with hymn singing. Murmured prayers did not neglect to mention the oppressed peoples. It was a scene of unforgettable, heroic dignity. Soon these same Americans would be in thick of the war, while off Singapore, Prince of Wales and most of her crew would be sent to the bottom by Japanese torpedoes."
What an alliance has been forged between the United States and United Kingdom through our glorious shared history, especially in the naval sphere. That alliance remains strong and steadfast. Today, I can assure you that under President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson, the "Special Relationship" endures.
There are critics of late who have, in light of Brexit and President Trump's election, questioned the leadership of the United Kingdom and United States in the world. This warship and her sister ship and America's eleven super carriers say everything you need to know about the leadership and resolve of our two great nations and their leaders.
With the arrival of the two Queen Elizabeth class carriers in the Royal Navy fleet, in the next world crisis, the British prime minister, not just the American president, will be able to pose the question "where are the carriers". That is great news for the West.
May God bless this warship and her crew, God bless the United Kingdom and God bless the United States of America.
Donald J. Trump, Remarks by National Security Advisor Ambassador Robert O'Brien at the 2019 Atlantic Future Forum on Board the HMS Queen Elizabeth in Annapolis, Maryland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/335155