Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has told Australian ministers that HMS Queen Elizabeth will conduct freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea region on her maiden deployment in 2021.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said:

“We spoke about the challenges including in the South China Sea and we had a long discussion about the Pacific and the opportunities for deeper British engagement in our part of the world.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in response to concerns raised regarding freedom of navigation in the South China Sea:

“One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area, to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system and in the freedom of navigation through those waterways which are absolutely vital for world trade.”

Britain recently deployed a squadron of Typhoon aircraft to conduct exercises with South Korea and Japan amid heightened tension in the region. According to local media, the ministers agreed to identify opportunities to conduct joint activities when the two countries have ships or other assets in the area at the same time.

We reported recently that it had emerged that the UK plans to sail HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific in 2021 amid concerns regarding freedom of navigation in the region.


HMS Queen Elizabeth will sail to the Pacific on her maiden deployment in 2020 according to an ambassador. Kim Darroch, Britain’s ambassador to the US said at a think-tank event in Washington:

“As we bring our two new aircraft carriers on-stream in 2020, and as we renew and update our defence forces, they will be seen in the Pacific. And we absolutely share the objective of this US administration, and the next one, to protect freedom of navigation and to keep sea routes and air routes open.”

The Queen Elizabeth class carriers are the largest and most powerful warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy, but what will they carry?

The term now used for the carriers embarked squadrons is ‘Carrier Air Wing’ (CVW), the previously used Tailored Air Group (TAG) has fallen out of official use. The vessels are capable of deploying a variety of aircraft in large numbers, up to a maximum in the upper fifties in surge conditions.

Captain Jerry Kyd, commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, commented on the initial deployment and the gradual increase in air wing numbers:

“We are constrained by the F-35 buy rate even though that was accelerated in SDSR in 2015, so initial operating capability numbers in 2020 are going to be very modest indeed. 

We will flesh it out with helicopters, and a lot depends on how many USMC F-35s come on our first deployment in 2021. But by 2023, we are committed to 24 UK jets onboard, and after that it’s too far away to say.”


In addition to the joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35Bs and their pilots, the air wing is expected to be composed of a ‘Maritime Force Protection’ package of nine anti-submarine Merlin HM2 and four or five Merlin for airborne early warning; alternatively a ‘Littoral Manoeuvre’ package could include a mix of RAF Chinooks, Army Apaches, Merlin HC4 and Wildcat HM2. We understand that vessel would still carry at least one F-35 squadron aboard in such circumstances to offer air defence as well as support to the helicopter assault activities.

The Crowsnest AEW&C aircraft will come from a number of the embarked Merlins (any of which can be fitted with the sensor package), the number again scaling with requirements.

Around the time the first carrier deploys operationally, the UK will have 42 F-35 aircraft, with 24 being front-line fighters and the remaining 18 will be used for training (at least 5 on the OCU), be in reserve or in maintenance.


Recently, the Ministry of Defence confirmed plans for the deployment of American F-35 aircraft alongside British jets aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth. The addition of US Marine Corps aircraft will see HMS Queen Elizabeth sail with 24 or so F-35Bs in addition to around 14 or so helicopters for her maiden deployment. It is understood that the US aircraft will augment British jets on coalition operations.


  1. If this is the case that Lizzie is deploying to south china sea hope we have everything in place Lizzies Self defence armament needs looking at may be Searam fitted Type 45 escorts have MK 41 fitted and aleast any Surface to surface missles fitted and one hunter Killer sub to go with her at all times

    • I would be quite surprised if an Australian escort wasn’t part of the carrier group, not only to help with resourcing but also to send a political message about the carriers being part of building closer cooperation with our allies and reflecting Britain’s increasingly global post-Brexit outlook (I’m spouting politicians’ soundbites here and not my own).

      If any USMC F-35Bs are along to make up deck numbers then there might very possibly be a USN vessel in there as well. Add a T45 and a T23 (so that we could at least say that half the group is RN, significantly more than half if RFA ships and the carrier itself are included), plus I would also hope also an Astute although that would be invisible, and the escorting fleet on her first deployment really becomes quite credible.

      • zero chance the US f35s will be deployed on our carriers without a full set of US escorts. Which I guess is a positive as it means adequate escorts are available.

  2. HMS Queen Elizabeth deployments is not just freedom of Navigation it is ready for a spring disbarment of North Korea nuclear capability which if not undertaken soon will leave North Hemisphere nations in Ashes for the next 25 years,

    North Korea does not have to directly attack America to trigger World war 3 they only have to Attack Russia with a America made stolen nuclear design former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumfields gave them back when he was work in defence project to help North Korea develop Nuclear capabilities along worth hundreds of billions to the companies involved.

  3. A few things need resolving urgently before HMS QE first deploys with carrier strike in 2023.
    1) an anti ship missile fit for RN escorts
    2) SAM weapons fit for QE carriers, currently they are the only carrier in the world over 30,000 tons with no SAM, containerised sea ceptor would fit the bill with a 24-48 cell container/ containers.
    3) adequate numbers of escorts, 19 is not enough, the RN needs a minimum of 26.
    4)f35b order, only commitment currently is for 48 aircraft, the uk armed forces need at least a further 48 aircraft in active service.

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly Mr. Bell but as we all know, none of the above is going to happen – especially #1 and #2. QE will sail as part of an ‘international task force’, which is code for we didn’t want to spend what was needed to defend our ships properly so we need you lot to come along for the ride so we can sponge off your resources. Of course, HMG will do it with a smile and the under resourcing of the RN will continue as it has for decades. Pathetic.

        • Why do we need someone to send a frigate? If we want to play in the big-boy-club with a shiny new aircraft carrier, we should be able to protect QE on our own and be resourced to act without being part of a coalition – ref Falklands. With no escort ASMs after 2018, 10yrs to get a mere 9 P-8s, no point-defence missiles onboard QE, too few escorts and having to rely on the USMC F-35s to make up the numbers, this is hardly inspiring. My point is that it’s not that HMG can’t properly resource defence – they simply choose not to and therefore ‘sponge’ off others to make up capabilities under the guise of we’re all allies.

          • I think the Phalanx being removed from Ocean will be placed on QE, although I’m not sure they loose effectiveness on such a large hull.

  4. 138 on paper yes – but let’s not forget that 2015SDSR was not, is not and will not be fully funded, so we will see how many we actually end up with.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to hear some genuine good news on defence and I hate being such a downer but our Armed Forces are woefully under resourced and this seriously worries me.

    • This is exactly the heart of the problem. We’ve not had a truly growing economy in 10 years and defence equipment has increased at well above inflationary levels. It is inevitable that our strengths and capabilities have diminished (although I’m fully on board with concerns that this Government has been particularly damaging to the BAF). We need to stay away from any potential routine deployments to the Pacific and concentrate stretched resources on the North Atlantic and to a lesser extent Med and Gulf. QE & POW will be in full demand in these environments anyway.

      Francis Tusa is well worth listening to on under-resourced equipment programmes btw. Expect reduced order quantities and/or further cancellations. And for all we moan about it, things aren’t going to get better. We have a Marxist leading the Loyal Opposition and it’s fully apparent now that the Tories genuinely don’t care.

  5. This is the politicians playing at Mr big on the world stage, they have no and i mean no idea about what defence is about. We can’t contain Russia so why pull the Chinese tail,idiots the lot of them.

  6. Why not send Repulse and Prince of Wales? We don’t need to adequately defend them on their jaunt around the Western Pacific. Everything will be fine…
    Boris insinuates that we might send both carriers. Lovely. Sending the whole navy to the coast of China won’t be at all provocative. If we have to engage in this unnecessary saber rattling, at least try to arm the carriers adequately before they go.

  7. Glad we are sending QE and not POW as the last time we did that it didn’t end well! (Yes I know it’s not ready too)

  8. Just imagine what a contribution these carriers could have made had our then Secretary of Defence, Philip Hammond, not cancelled the CATOBAR deck arrangement. Nice to have been able to operate other fixed wing aircraft rather than being hamstrung by the grossly overpriced problematical F35B! The afterthought, jury rig “ski Jump” is a suitable monument to our now Penny Wise Chancellor. White Elephants indeed.

    • Cats and traps were never going to happen for political amd industrial reasons. The additional costs and the immaturity of emals would have meant the UK going with the French idea of one carrier each and sharing the training costs of maintaining our narions FAA by flying Rafales or F-18. CDG cannot handle F-36C.
      As it turns out we have 2 excellent assets which can be used in any role from Northern Flank fleet carriers to Gulf strike carriers to WW LHDs. Their only weakness is lack of strike range of the F-35B which means we need to leave the Pacific to the US.
      Oz should really be buying a couple of QE class.

  9. This is the opportunity that China has been waiting for a long time and this is also one of the main reasons China has been building its military for the past twenty years – settling old scores for historical reason. Britain is definitely one of the them. Please encourage Britain to provoke China any way they can, so that China will have plenty to work with.

    • Realistically I think we will have to accept Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea. The Phillipines is going tits up as it rejects US influence. What with the drug gangs and the Islamists the vultures are gathering. St Ignatius must be turning in his grave. We should grab as many nurses as we can for the NHS while we can. The front line of the west to defend in the region realistically is probably Oz and Singapore. The Vietnamese are capable of looking after themselves.

  10. It’s hard not to laugh at this. Our hugely expensive, woefully under-armed & with negligible strike/air defense capability, even by then, could be more a sitting duck & temptation for China to eliminate. If we cannot afford the numbers needed to meet our defense comittments & escorts to properly protect this wonderful asset, then we cannot afford to put her in harms way. At least not until a credible air wing can be deployed(why was a cheaper Vstol jet not developed or bought to supplement the hyper expensive F-35s?), escort numbers increased, defensive armament improved to at least adequate & manpower shortages remedied. Discuss.

    • Why is that a bad thing? We give the Navy something meaningful to do and get a sales opportunity at the same time I’m not seeing a problem here. Would you prefer they just sail around the UK?

    • Is it worth the effort ( on either side)? An Oz Type 26 will have an Oz radar, a Swedish CMS, a US VLS and gun, a US helo, probably LM turbines and will create Oz ship building jobs. Really a different ship. Would love to see the benefit to UK balance of payments.

  11. They say imitation is the sincerest form
    of flattery. In claiming and reinforcing
    the Spratley islands China is learning
    from how the UK built it’s empire. William
    built his Welsh castles, we are extending
    the landing facilities in the Falklands.
    The Chinese are digging an alternate to
    the Panama Canal and are digging in economically in east Africa. The 19th century was British, the 20th century was American,
    the 21st century is Chinese.

  12. General George Paton once remarked that ‘quantity has a quality all its own’. This is proving true of the Chinese navy.

    While you could argue that some of the PLAN’s older ships and subs may be tending towards obsolescence and many of their smaller ships are more suited to the littoral than blue water operations, the PLAN’s rapid modernisation means their latest designs, which are now been fielded in numbers, are on a par with western navies.

    The PLAN order of battle (below) should provide a reality check for the Royal Navy. The numbers speak for themselves.

    Add to that the success of their area denial strategy (A2/AD) including long range anti-ship ballistic missiles like the DF21, a string of island fortresses across the South China Sea providing total coverage by land based fighter aircraft and SAMs and now being the first navy to take a ‘game changing’rail gun to sea for trials.

    In effect it means that there is no task force the UK could deploy right now to the South China Sea that the PLAN could not already counter. By 2021 expect that disparity to have grown further.

    1 aircraft carrier – commissioned
    1 aircraft carrier – launched and in final fit out
    1 aircraft carrier – under construction
    4 amphibious transport docks
    32 landing ship tanks
    31 landing ship medium
    29 destroyers
    50 frigates
    37 corvettes
    109 missile boats
    94 submarine chasers
    17 gunboats
    29 mine countermeasure vessels
    68 submarines
    12 replenishment ships
    232 auxiliaries

  13. I’m sure there will be enough escorts for the carrier, as others have mentioned there will not only be UK escorts but other nations helping to escort also.. That’s the way it is these day’s, why the UK has helped to escort our NATO allies so often.. Should be an impressive sight to see.

  14. Unless we get our politicians to pull their fingers out, all we’ll be doing by sending an inadequately equipped carrier group out there is playing a stupid game of “chicken”, parading our most valuable assets in front of a large & well equipped PRC.

  15. We could take another look at this.

    Yes we will do a freedom of access tour – but actually there is nothing stopping the QE from stopping off in HK and several mainland china ports to help with our diplomatic efforts.

    China will not like our jaunt around the spratley’s but as long as we communicate along the way I suspect they will welcome us into their ports.

    There is nothing to stop us partnering with both China, the USA and Japan etc as I don’t think it is binary.

    It may well come to it that we have to choose our friends at some point and fight – but that point is not now.

    • Yes, other approaches might be more constructive. Of course we are within our rights to exercise our freedom of navigation, as are the US. But people who are always insisting on their rights tend to separate themselves from constructive relationships.
      A better approach would be a sales tour of Asia with a ‘task force’ of QE, Wildcat, Merlin, Type 23 with Sea Ceptor, HMS Forth and a Type 45 if the propulsion is fixed. Set up an exhibition area on QE and invite reps from UK aerospace and hi tech companies. And others e.g. Invite Saab and Elta and take a Sky Sabre demo…we should be thinking positive not negative. By all means pass by the Spratley Islands on the way to the Philippines for example but don’t make the assertion of navigation rights the purpose of the expedition.

  16. What capabilities and/or characteristics does a carrier have to have to be termed a “supercarrier” (as per the headline) ?

  17. Britain wants to send carrier to South China Sea – does Britain still think it is ‘Great’ and it is 1890?
    Perhaps China should send various naval vessels through the English Channel – and watch Britain go berserk with hysteria and panic. lol.


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