Britain's aircraft carriers are crucial to its future as an effective global power, the First Sea Lord has warned.
Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, head of the Royal Navy, said the ability to launch air power from the sea was a vital way of asserting "strategic international influence".
Britain has not had a carrier strike force since its Sea Harriers were axed by the government in 2010.
Meanwhile, a defence minister has said the UK will continue to fight piracy.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) think-tank in London, Admiral Stanhope emphasised the ongoing significance of the Navy's two new carriers - which are being built and are scheduled to enter service with the Joint Strike Fighter from 2018.
He pointed out that - between the end of World War II and the scrapping of the Sea Harrier in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review - Britain had deployed carriers in every year but 1989.
"To put it simply, countries that aspire to strategic international influence have aircraft carriers and countries that have them use them," he said.
"Air power from the sea was an important part of our national story last century and it will continue to be a vital part of our national story this century."
Also addressing Rusi, Gerald Howarth, the minister responsible for international security strategy, underlined the need for the international community to continue its battle against piracy - particularly off the coast of Somalia.
"If we do not tackle it off the Horn of Africa - this is going to require very little investment for a massive return - it will be replicated in other parts of the world," he said.
"The human costs are sobering - hundreds of unfortunate men and women have been taken hostage.
He added that the economic effects and consequences would also be "potentially dire - both for the maritime industry and the wider global economy".